If humans stopped emitting air, an astonishing 5.6 million premature deaths per year due to global outdoor air pollution could be prevented, according to research published Monday.
About 65% of these deaths are due to burning of fossil fuels, with the remainder due to such activities as biomass burning and agriculture. Eliminating human-caused air pollution would also significantly reduce drought in monsoon regions, but it would allow more sunlight to reach the surface, increasing Earth’s surface temperature by at least 0.36°C (0.65°F). Overall, the effects would be hugely beneficial, Wunderground reports.
We assessed the effects of air pollution and greenhouse gases on public health, climate, and the hydrologic cycle. We combined a global atmospheric chemistry–climate model with air pollution exposure functions, based on an unmatched large number of cohort studies in many countries. We find that fossil-fuel-related emissions account for about 65% of the excess mortality rate attributable to air pollution, and 70% of the climate cooling by anthropogenic aerosols. We conclude that to save millions of lives and restore aerosol-perturbed rainfall patterns, while limiting global warming to 2 °C, a rapid phaseout of fossil-fuel-related emissions and major reductions of other anthropogenic sources are needed.
Anthropogenic greenhouse gases and aerosols are associated with climate change and human health risks. We used a global model to estimate the climate and public health outcomes attributable to fossil fuel use, indicating the potential benefits of a phaseout. We show that it can avoid an excess mortality rate of 3.61 (2.96–4.21) million per year from outdoor air pollution worldwide. This could be up to 5.55 (4.52–6.52) million per year by additionally controlling nonfossil anthropogenic sources. Globally, fossil-fuel-related emissions account for about 65% of the excess mortality, and 70% of the climate cooling by anthropogenic aerosols. The chemical influence of air pollution on aeolian dust contributes to the aerosol cooling. Because aerosols affect the hydrologic cycle, removing the anthropogenic emissions in the model increases rainfall by 10–70% over densely populated regions in India and 10–30% over northern China, and by 10–40% over Central America, West Africa, and the drought-prone Sahel, thus contributing to water and food security. Since aerosols mask the anthropogenic rise in global temperature, removing fossil-fuel-generated particles liberates 0.51(±0.03) °C and all pollution particles 0.73(±0.03) °C warming, reaching around 2 °C over North America and Northeast Asia. The steep temperature increase from removing aerosols can be moderated to about 0.36(±0.06) °C globally by the simultaneous reduction of tropospheric ozone and methane. We conclude that a rapid phaseout of fossil-fuel-related emissions and major reductions of other anthropogenic sources are needed to save millions of lives, restore aerosol-perturbed rainfall patterns, and limit global warming to 2 °C.