Study: Air Pollution is the Greatest External Threat to Global Health

    Study: Air Pollution is the Greatest External Threat to Global Health
    Last updated Aug 29, 2023
    Image credit: Unsplash


    • According to a study published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago on Tuesday, air pollution is the world's greatest external risk to human health.
    • The study found that while tobacco use reduces global life expectancy by 2.2 years, fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) cuts it by 2.3 years — or a combined 17.8B life years for the global population.
    • The situation is worse in South Asia, where the researchers claimed that increasing air pollution can cut a person's life expectancy by more than five years.
    • The Institute's latest Air Quality Life Index suggests South Asia, one of the world's most polluted regions, accounts for more than half of the total life years lost globally to pollution.
    • According to World Health Organization data, 36% of lung cancers, 34% of strokes, and 27% of heart diseases are linked to fine particulate pollution — which usually comes from vehicle and industrial emissions.
    • Meanwhile, the researchers revealed that China successfully reduced air pollution levels by 42.3% between 2013 and 2021.


    Narrative A

    Multiple studies have shown that air pollution is more dangerous to global health than smoking, alcohol, or malnutrition. Yet the percentage of funding set aside to confront the existential threat is minuscule. Just six countries suffer from three-quarters of the world's air pollution's impact. Governments must unite to reduce global disparities in the fight against air pollution.

    Narrative B

    While air quality has improved over the last few decades in Europe, the growing threat of wildfires — caused by rising temperatures linked to climate change — is causing spikes in air pollution from the western US to Latin America and Southeast Asia. We must devote more resources to tackle global warming as a root cause of this threat.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 50% chance that the average annual level of PM2.5 in Beijing will be at least 40 in 2023, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

    Articles on this story

    Sign up to our newsletter!