Wait, what? So many deaths and we don’t even know about it?
Yes, it’s true.
Shocking and devastating, but true. New research by the universities of Birmingham, Leicester, and College London in partnership with Harvard has shone a light on a deadly killer.
We all knew that Fossil fuels were bad for the environment, but up until now, it’s been hard to put an exact figure on their impact on human life.
How are fossil fuels killing us?
The way fossil fuels are killing us, choking the environment, and stirring up the climate is hard to measure. Just thinking about the scale of air pollution and the effects it has is phenomenal.
And even cancer, are all linked to air pollution from burning fossil fuels. So, calculating a total death toll that can be linked back to fossil fuels is no easy task.
Some brilliant scientists from across the UK (and Harvard) have managed to put a figure on it. In the past, studies have used averages to work out the global scale of air pollution with data from satellites and physical observations.
But when this new team combined this data with a global 3D model of atmospheric chemistry from NASA, they had a much better understanding of air pollution. They then combined this data with a new risk assessment model and began counting deaths.
In layman’s terms: the new research is far more precise than previous studies.
And the final number? 8.7 million premature deaths caused by fossil fuel pollution in 12 months.
A closer look at PM2.5
When we combust fossil fuels, particularly coal, petrol, and diesel, we release something called PM2.5. These PM2.5 particles are 2.5 micrometers in diameter. It’s so small you can’t even imagine it!
Unfortunately, your lungs don’t have to imagine it.
The particles are inhaled and end up stuck in your lungs. This is where the damage begins and it’s what the new study focuses on.
Wait, will my face mask stop PM2.5 particles?
You can buy face masks that have filters for PM2.5 particles. But they won’t necessarily offer you the right protection.
According to Dr. Scott Segal, talking to NBC news, “filters, such as PM2.5 filters, won’t block viral particles, but can be counted as an additional layer in a mask.”
If you live in a built-up urban area, adding a PM2.5 filter to your coronavirus mask is a good way to add another layer of protection for your health.
Fossil fuels have killed more than coronavirus
The deadly virus that has us all locked up inside has changed the way we live irrevocably. But looking at the statistics, fossil fuels will have killed far more.
In 2018, there were 8.7 million deaths attributed to fossil fuel pollution in those 12 months according to the GEOS-Chem results.
From January 2020 to February 2021, a 13-month period, coronavirus has killed 2.3 million people (and counting).
The level of pollution between 2018 and 2020 will, obviously, have changed… but it’s not a pretty picture any way you look at it.
The problem is, coronavirus hit us when we were least expecting it. The massive increase from 0 COVID deaths to 2.3 million COVID deaths is chilling. But fossil fuel deaths? They’ve likely been building up for decades.
Now someone has put a figure on the exact number of deaths we can attribute to fossil fuel pollution, it’s clear that this invisible killer needs immediate action.
2018 in Numbers
Is it all doom and gloom?
Even though this study has an end-of-the-world vibe, there is good news hidden between the lines.
Initially, the study calculated a 10.2 million death rate due to fossil fuels, with China accounting for 3.9 million and India accounting for 2.5 million. Together, that’s 62% from just two countries.
But when researchers calculated the fact that China has reduced PM2.5s by 43.7% from 2012 to 2018, it dropped to the 8.7 million figure that’s currently making headlines.
China is undoubtedly one of the worst offenders for fossil fuel air pollution – but they’ve also proven that change is possible and could save millions of lives.
Here’s what you can do about it
First, the best way to make a huge change is to get the decision-makers involved. With this new research proving that a more urgent response is needed to fossil fuel air pollution, we hope to see carbon-neutral goals and eco-focused policies come into play now. Not in 5 years’ time.
So, write a letter to your MP, sign that petition to reduce traffic in your area, and share this article on social media to spread the word.
There is also so much you can do to reduce fossil fuel pollution in your own life:
Read our eco product guides (you can start with an eco-frienldy household). Selecting companies that are already carbon neutral and use eco-friendly practices is important. Do you want your money to go to a huge factory in China or an eco-warrior in Lincolnshire?
Buying artisan products made with eco-friendly practices is great… if they aren’t shipped from the other side of the world in a petrol-guzzling lorry. Think about the journey your products went on to reach you.
Ditch the Car
You’ve heard this one before! Only use your car when necessary. Walk, cycle and swim where possible (okay, maybe don’t swim to work) to cut back on emissions.
Be Careful with Your Wood Burner
38% of PM2.5 in the UK comes from domestic wood burners and open fires. The government is cracking down on this by phasing out coal and wet woods, replacing them with dry wood and ‘manufactured solid fuels’. Of course, the best way to reduce PM2.5 emissions is to stop using the wood burner entirely!
In conclusion, take a deep breath (mask on, of course) and get ready to make some positive changes. Yes, the new research is disheartening… but now we can act.
Want to read more about how you can save the planet one purchase at a time? Read our guide to affordable ethical clothing in the UK next.
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