One of the problems with spreading the message of environmental conservation is the fact that visible evidence of the damage we’ve done to nature is often ignored from the perspective of a single individual. It is human nature to live in the now, to focus intently on what will immediately affect their own lives. The fact that countless marine organisms have been killed by the discarding of plastics in the ocean or that the white rhino is nearly extinct doesn’t seem to have visible impact on the everyday life of an average human, which makes the important problems somewhat easy to ignore.
However, a new study from the World Health Organization should significantly alter this view, and serves to demonstrate that human activity and its toxic effect on the environment has a very direct, potentially deadly presence in the lives of every human on the planet. The study reports that in 2012, seven million human deaths were directly caused by environmental pollution. That’s more than the entire population of Denmark, now dead because human actions have rendered the environment less hospitable to human life. Out of the estimated 56 million human deaths per year, that totals to one out of every eight deaths attributed to pollution. While the predicted extinction of all terrestrial life in 2012 due to the Mayan apocalypse could be safely ignored, this report of a man-made disaster, coming from a valid and respectable source should be relevant and very alarming to any rational individual.
Although a majority of these pollution-related deaths occurred in Asia, Asians are far from the only people vulnerable to its harmful effects. A major force contributing to air pollution is the rapid industrialization and urbanization of developing Eastern countries like China. As indicated by reports from the World Health Organization and the World Bank, “the burning of noxious fuels -coal, wood, and animal waste- was among the greatest threats to human health.”
There is much that China can do to decrease the negative impacts of its urbanization - as detailed in the World Bank’s publication “Urban China: Toward Efficient, Inclusive, and Sustainable Urbanization”. According to the World Bank, “China already has tough environmental laws, regulations and standards, so the most important task for achieving greener urbanization is enforcement.”
But, as we must stress, this is as much a domestic issue as an international one. According to the American Lung Association, “more than 159 million Americans live in areas where the level of air pollution threatens their health”. You can help the fight against pollution by writing a letter to your local politicians encouraging them to implement the American Lung Association’s clean air policies, oppose oil drilling efforts (which often contaminate bodies of water), and defend EPA’s right to ensure all Americans have access to clean air.