The same clean air policies that can reduce fossil fuel emissions and help rein in climate change can also add up to 5 years onto people’s lives in the most polluted regions, while globally adding more than 2 years onto lives on average.
Over the last year, Covid-19 lockdowns brought blue skies to the most polluted regions of the globe, while wildfires exacerbated by a drier and hotter climate sent smoke to the normally clean skies of cities thousands of miles away. The conflicting events offer two visions of the future. The difference between those futures lies in policies to reduce fossil fuels.
New data from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) underscores the health threat of a world without policy action. Unless global particulate air pollution is reduced to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline, the average person is set to lose 2.2 years off their lives. Residents of the most polluted areas of the world could see their lives cut short by 5 years or more. Working unseen inside the human body, particulate pollution has a more devastating impact on life expectancy than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.
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