Axios' Andrew Freedman reports ... Globally, air pollution that's often directly linked to fossil fuels reduces average life expectancy by 1.8 years, according to a new index developed by the University of Chicago.
What they did: The metric, known as the Air Quality Life Index, or AQLI, attempts to clearly indicate how emissions of tiny particles, called particulates, are having an affect on people's health worldwide.
Why it matters: The report comes at a time when millions in California are being forced to wear protective masks to shield themselves from particulate pollution originating from the state's deadly wildfires. It also comes at the height of smog season in India, a country that ranks high on the list of most-affected nations, according to the new index.
The big picture: Based on the AQLI, which was developed on peer-reviewed studies but has not itself been published in a scientific journal, particulate pollution is the single greatest threat to human health worldwide with regard to life expectancy. It shaves more years off people's lives on average than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and smoking cigarettes, the authors say.
- Particulate pollution chiefly comes from burning fossil fuels for energy.
- The biggest health threat from power plants, factories and vehicles is what's known as fine particulate matter, or PM2.5 — particles that are so small they can easily be breathed in and lodged deep into the lungs.
- Such particles can cause cardiovascular problems, aggravate pre-existing conditions like asthma, and increase mortality from cancer and heart disease.
By the numbers: According to the newly developed index, people in India would live 4.3 years longer if their country met clean air guidelines set by the World Health Organization. And, U.S. citizens who live in the most polluted counties would live up to a year longer if they were brought into alignment with those figures.
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My thought bubble: The detailed new analysis is part of an even wider conundrum.
- Fuels that have for centuries powered development and wider prosperity also have deleterious effects on health and ecosystems and are dangerously warming the planet.
What they're saying: Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz gets to this dynamic a bit in comments circulated alongside the study. He notes that energy demand is slated to grow by 40% in the next 2 decades, an increase occurring almost entirely in developing nations.
- "Our energy future, however, cannot look like the past. The AQLI clearly demonstrates that particulate pollution, driven largely by the burning of fossil fuels, is the world’s leading threat to life expectancy," he said.
- "To extend lives and mitigate the risks of climate change, we must transform our energy systems at an unprecedented pace."