A toxin we can't escape, air pollution has dethroned tobacco as the world's top public health threat. * Air pollution cuts life expectancy by 2.3 years globally, overshadowing tobacco's 2.2 years.
Imagine taking a puff from a cigarette every time you inhale, whether you're a smoker or not. That's the grim reality posited by a recent report from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, highlighted by Sha Hua in the Wall Street Journal. The study unveils air pollution as the world's greatest threat to public health, shaving an average of 2.3 years off global life expectancy—more than even tobacco.
The findings serve as a bell tolling for humanity. While China managed to reverse the trend by improving its air quality by over 40% between 2013 and 2021, countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan have seen life expectancy plummet due to worsening air quality. "India alone was responsible for nearly 60% of the growth in air pollution across the globe during that time," the article points out.
So why does public awareness of this environmental catastrophe seem to be lagging, especially in regions most severely affected? Michael Greenstone, who contributed to the report, says that "air-pollution improvements are often driven by the demand of the people." In other words, the fight for cleaner air is not just a policy issue—it's a public demand issue, and thereby an issue of life and death.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 2b) states, "A person should not open a storehouse of chaff in the city, nor may he thresh grain there in the summer due to the dust." This wisdom underscores the Jewish concern for public health as it relates to air quality, emphasizing that actions negatively impacting the community's well-being are not to be tolerated. It adds an age-old layer of ethical imperatives to the modern struggle against air pollution.
Even in bleak circumstances, hope should not be forsaken. China’s example shows that swift action and public awareness can drive significant improvements. It seems, then, that each of us has a role to play in this unfolding drama of survival. As we move closer to the era of Moshiach, it becomes increasingly essential to create a world that is not just spiritually refined but physically sustainable and healthful.
As the world grapples with complex issues like geopolitics and climate change, the air quality crisis serves as a reminder that some challenges can be met through the collective will of the people and responsive governance. The stakes could not be higher: what we breathe in every second counts toward the years we may not have. While we can't "quit" air like we can cigarettes, we can certainly strive for a future where each inhalation doesn't subtract from our lifespan.