Global warming. The mere mention of these two powerful words can create panic in the minds of many. We are bombarded with news about the Earth’s irreversible trajectory towards oblivion. Overconsumption of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources is to blame, with every effort humanly possible put into finding alternatives to their use. Human beings, particularly those from the developed world, are held accountable – socially and sometimes legally – to putting the Earth on a greener path. But are we really hearing the whole story?
Last week I attended a thought-provoking lecture by Dr. Bjorn Lomborg. Author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg is known the world over for his nonconventional views towards the pressing needs of our day. Of all the myriad statistics that flew before the audience, one stuck out as particularly salient. He asked the room, made up of environmental and social responsibility consultants, about the top threat to the environment today. All of us knew that global warming was only part of a larger issue encompassing water use, renewable resources and increasing production of food for developing economies. None of us expected him to say that indoor air pollution was suspect number one.
Lomborg claims that indoor air pollution “…has killed almost twice as many people – 260 million – than all the 20th century’s wars combined.” A New York Post article from Lomborg this past Earth Day cites the WHO statistic of 4.3 million indoor pollution-related deaths in 2012 alone. Nearly a third of the world’s population still uses unsafe materials for cooking and keeping warm. Lomborg notes that “[t]his leads to strokes, heart disease and cancer, and disproportionately affects women and children.” When coupled with air outside, pollution is accountable for one in eight deaths worldwide.
These statistics stuck with me not only because of their glaring reality and the fact that even professionals in the field knew little of the issue. It was also because the experts in that room were all working and living in a place where pollution is a top-of-mind concern. Not a single one of us mentioned indoor air pollution as an issue, which is an issue in-and-of itself. Before we examine solutions, let me take a minute to persuade you with facts.
Fortunately, there are a number of free or cheap things people can do to keep themselves and their families safe, without resorting to wearing facemasks indoors.
It’s also important to invest in your family’s health. Again, this doesn’t have to break the bank.
Let’s remember too that this is not limited to our homes. Workplaces and schools also suffer from the same issues. These tips are not China-specific either. The EPA ranks indoor air pollution as one of its top five health concerns for Americans as well. Air pollution impacts people from Shanghai to Beijing, Los Angeles to New York. While Lomborg adds that it “…doesn’t garner the headlines afforded to global warming because it’s not nearly as sexy…” that doesn't make it any less of a threat.