Pollution: not “an unavoidable consequence” of development

The headlines are grabbing people's attention:

CBC News: "Pollution causing more deaths worldwide than war or smoking"; CNN: "Pollution linked to 9 million deaths worldwide in 2015, study says"; BBC: "Pollution linked to one in six deaths";  Associated Press: "Pollution killing more people every year than wars, disaster and hunger, study says";  The Independent: "Pollution is killing millions of people a year and the world is reaching 'crisis point', experts warn."

News outlets are referring to a report released yesterday by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. The report’s authors---an international team of nearly 50 public health scientists---spent nearly two years synthesizing data on the human health effects and economic costs of toxic substances in the air, soil, and water.

Their definition of pollution comes from the European Union:

"unwanted, often dangerous, material that is introduced into the Earth’s environment as the result of human activity, that threatens human health, and that harms ecosystems."

The headlines whet my appetite for more of the numbers and the report delivers. For example, the committee's analysis indicates:

  • An estimated 9 million deaths in 2015 can be attributed to air, water, and soil pollution. This compares to an estimated 4 million deaths from obesity, 2.3 million from alcohol, and 1.4 million on roadways.
  • Pollution related deaths are responsible for three times as many deaths from AIDs, TB, and malaria combined.
  • Pollution related deaths are responsible for nearly 15 times as many deaths as those from wars and all forms of violence.

The report, however, goes much deeper than calculations and point estimates. Laced throughout the report---explicit and implicit---is a message that governments, foundations, medical societies, and research institutions pay too little attention to the impact of pollution on health. The authors call out political actors, international development and health organizations for ignoring pollution in their agendas. The authors write:

“Although more than 70% of the diseases caused by pollution are non-communicable diseases, interventions against pollution are barely mentioned in the [World Health Organization’s] Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.”

The identify several factors for the neglect:

“… A persistent impediment has been the flawed conventional wisdom that pollution and disease are the unavoidable consequences of economic development, the so-called ‘environmental Kuznets hypothesis.’ This Commission vigorously challenges that claim as a flawed and obsolete notion formulated decades ago when populations and urban centres were much smaller than they are today, the nature, sources, and health effects of pollution were very different, and cleaner fuels and modern production technologies were not yet available.

The authors do not shy away from articulating a path forward to address pollution. I agree with their assessment that sustainable long-term solutions will require a fundamental economic shift. We must move away from the "resource-intensive, and inherently wasteful, linear take-make-use-dispose economic paradigm." (It's a mouthful but sums it up well.) We must embrace and adopt a new economic system that the authors describe as one in which:

"pollution is reduced through the creation of durable, long-lasting products, the reduction of waste by large-scale recycling, reuse, and repair, the removal of distorting subsidies, the replacement of hazardous materials with safer alternatives, and strict enforcement of pollution taxes.  ...[An economy that] conserves and increases resources, rather than taking and depleting them."

The Lancet Commission's report generated some eye catching headlines. I'm glad I took the time to read it. I hope many others do too.


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With widely announced reports of casualties from world pollution being so exceedingly great; the worth of clean air, water and contaminant free soils and foods becomes further emphasized and the need underscored. This also infers that ground water, being tained by chemically laden ashes from homes and towns that have burned to the ground; homes Containing plastics, household chemicals, electronics casings. industrial solvents etc. that yet need be better prevented from contaminating; and doing so by wise planning and construction and forestry management. Further actual value can be derived from societal pursuits that do not increase or require daily polluting commuting, breathing lingering wildfire smoke, and the equally dangerous fumes from detonated weaponry being used worldwide by peoples not realizing the after effects of lingering barbarism and refusal to rather nurture mutual regard also for the planet's life sustaining land foliage -plants, trees-and other wildlife, long preceding human presence onthe planet.

Further value can be derived from not only abandoning the long adversely ramifying death dealing sado-masochistic world 'cults of mayhem, injury,decimation and death' but rather seeking and actually both pursuing and accepting whatever actually leads toward greater global safety and stabiity; and especially when such more optimal outcomes can and do present evidences of sure achievement and attainment, however unprecedented.

Among such novel occurrences are those widely seen successful demonstrations during the past three decades; of difficult to access wildfires being more quickly suppressed without chemicals and costly air flights, in over two countries and three states. The modes the advanced collaborative modes introduced, saved benefitting states and countries billions in firefighting, restoration & medical expenditures, yet were largely disparaged and likely deemed coincidental. This too underscores how humankind -even when shown better provenances to pursue, are prone to disregard and devalue the implications;, preferring the more risky costly familiar pursuits.

During the early AM hours of 10/21/2017 while dreaming; twice during the same dream sequence, I saw a volcano -seemingly nearby and somewhat blue and yellow in color-. when actually enabled to I look at it for a sustained period. During that second time;he second time -the first time it was more fleeting- I saw dark clouds moving slowly and , spreading overhead too. Whenever ever in the past when a dream is suddenly interrupted twice like that -and wit brilliant colors-, I've learned it's more than a dream and deserves attention of others. In fact I heard other voices also shouting in alarming tones when the volcanoes were seen..

It's very possible we all need be readied for more than just reckless human induced consequences, as heat from growing radioactive 'waste' is also adversely impacting the global environs . Long accumulating protective moderating elements have also been dangerously degraded, resulting in residual intensifications. And likely also enabling deeper tropospheric penetration of solar X-rays, high energy UV and cosmic rays..