According to the World Health Organisation, 25% of deaths of children under 5 are at least partially down to air pollution. Even “safe” levels of air pollution may increase rates of cognitive decline, stroke, and heart attack.
So why aren’t we terrified to step outdoors?
We’ve all see the photos of Beijing and London shrouded in smog. However, the really damaging pollution is practically invisible. Some of the most dangerous products of combustion, for example, are about 30-tims smaller than the thickness of a human hair.
Its official then – the WHO says that pollution is now a greater threat than Ebola and HIV.
But tackling diseases is something people can understand. Pollution is a bit more nebulous. Apart from last year’s slightly sad “Clean for The Queen” campaign – to help celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday – pollution doesn’t really capture the imagination of the press like tales of people bleeding to death from every orifice.
New epidemics conjure up images of heroic scientists (following the strict principles of Good Clinical Practice) in a race against time to perfect the magic bullet that will save everyone just in time. There isn’t a similar pollution-related image fixed in the zeitgeist – at least not yet.
Tackling pollution is a bit trickier to pin down – no cure in a pill here.
By dealing with pollution head-on, the WHO claims that one quarter of deaths and diseases in 2012 could have been prevented. Last year, the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health said air pollution contributes to 40,000 early deaths in British cities every year. They warned that poorly controlled diesel emissions were mainly to blame.
But effectively reducing pollution involves major change – not only by industry and governments but by individuals too. If giving up your beloved and economical diesel car is a part of the equation there is going to be a kickback.
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