When we think of the biggest risk factors to our lifespan, often what comes to mind is smoking, drinking, or an unhealthy lifestyle. However, there's one issue that poses a larger threat than the others – air pollution.
When we breathe polluted air, we open ourselves up to the risk of shortening our lifespan. The Energy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) recently published a report revealing that air pollution takes 2.2 years off the average global life expectancy.
This is a larger risk than that posed by firsthand cigarette smoke, which takes 1.9 years off of the average lifespan. Exposure to air pollution also causes a shorter lifespan compared to alcohol and drug usage (9 months), unsafe water and sanitation (7 months), HIV and AIDS (4 months), malaria (3 months), and conflict and terrorism (7 days).
For residents in the most polluted areas of the world, the average lifespan could be reduced by 5 years or more.
Unfortunately, it's increasingly difficult to find places to live with acceptable air pollution levels. According to the EPIC report, 97% of the world's population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds the acceptable levels. In fact, no country met the World Health Organization's air quality standard in 2021.
Particulate matter, small particles suspended in the air, poses some of the greatest risks to our health. 60% of particulate matter in air pollution is caused by fossil fuel combustion. Particulate matter is especially dangerous due to its ability to enter into the airways and lead to serious health consequences.
So, what do we do now?
The most important thing we can do to fight air pollution is advocate for policy change. Start by getting involved at your local level to demand climate change action and legislative reform.
On a personal level, start by making an effort to keep clean air in your home. Clean your air conditioners frequently, opt for natural cleaning products, and invest in a high quality air purification system.
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