IT'S NOT THE WARMING, STUPID:
Earth Day is a chance to take stock: What is the state of the world’s environment? Our knee-jerk reaction is that it’s getting worse. But that is not only mostly incorrect, it also prevents us from using Earth Day to help do the most good to make the environment even better.
Many think the biggest global environment problem is global warming. After all, the issue gets the lion’s share of headlines and accounts for much of the hell-in-a-hand-basket environmental news we come across. But by any reasonable measure, this is entirely wrong. The most important is in fact indoor air pollution.
One-third of the world’s people — 2.9 billion — cook and keep warm burning twigs and dung, which give off deadly fumes. This leads to strokes, heart disease and cancer, and disproportionately affects women and children. The World Health Organization estimates that it killed 4.3 million people in 2012. Add the smaller death count from outdoor pollution, and air pollution causes one in eight deaths worldwide.
Compare these numbers to global warming. As the new report from the UN Climate Panel concludes, “At present the worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors.” Air pollution doesn’t garner the headlines afforded to global warming because it’s not nearly as sexy. It’s old-fashioned, boring, and doesn’t raise anywhere near as much money as climate change.
Global warming is a real problem, but its threat is much, much lower.