Air Pollution and Life Expectancy

Air pollution results in 7,700 premature deaths in Canada each year, report says (and costs Canadians $36 billion annually) (CBC)

Polluted air causes 5.5 million deaths a year new research says (BBC)

Imagine if a war caused between 5.5 million and 6.5 million deaths each and every year. Wouldn’t it become one of the priorities of government, business, industry and social action groups? Of course it would!

So why isn’t there more being done about air pollution?

To be fair, many jurisdictions around the world are working towards decreasing air pollution. In Ontario, where I live, air pollution has decreased significantly in the last 10 years. But it always seems to be the environmental action groups and governments who are forcing actions to clean up the air. Businesses and industries must be dragged kicking and screaming to do their part

What’s strange for me is that air pollution has been a topic de jour since I was a kid. First it was Acid Rain (acid deposition), then it became Smog, then Ozone Depletion, and most recently, Greenhouse Gas Emissions. These battle fronts all have the same culprit behind them: a laissez-faire, free market economy that allows industries and businesses to do as they please to earn a profit, even if it means additional health costs, environmental costs and premature deaths. It’s only when citizen groups begin complaining that something is done – and even then those citizen groups are written off as “environmentalists” or “liberals”. Yet, everyone is affected by this.

Personally, I just don’t understand this line of thinking. Sadly, as a society, “we” have become so enraptured with maintaining the relatively lower costs of goods and services that we scream when prices are higher due to balancing out some of those environmental and health costs that have not typically been included in the point-of-purchase cost of items – even when those low prices are killing us! I know, that sounds overly dramatic, but the clear link is there.

Recently, we’ve seen this irrational complaint of rising prices here in Ontario with electricity. We have shut down all our coal-fired generating stations and are now promoting clean energy. But this has driven up our electricity costs. To be fair, nuclear power has been hugely over-budget, but at least part of the rise in rates can be attributed to paying the true cost of electricity generation. (See Globe and Mail: Why does Ontario’s electricity cost so much? A reality check)

What brought this to mind is an excellent world map produced by the University of Chicago depicting the change in Life Expectancy caused by air pollution: Air Quality to Life Index (AQLI). Perhaps not surprisingly, there is only a negligible change in “the West”. After all, we have the tax revenue and (somewhat) independentgovernments who have thepolitical strength and will to enact the necessary legislation, although even that doesn’t go far enough.

Parts of Africa, India and China, on the other hand are being greatly affected by air pollution.

See: NY Times: Air so dirty, your head hurts (India) and Reuters: Northern China air pollution worsens January to July.

This nexus of air pollution, industry and health deservesgreater study and the U of Chicago AQLI website is a great place to start.

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Brilliant essay: This World is enough

John Quiggin, professor of Economics at the University of Queensland states, 

For the first time in history we could end poverty while protecting the global environment. But do we have the will?

This world is enough is a must-read essay from Aeon for every teacher and student of IB DP Geography, A Level Geography and Ontario’s World Issues (CGW-4U) course, not to mention many university courses on geography, economics and resources.

Quiggan covers every major topic in these courses, from population changes, Malthusian and anti-Malthusian views and disparity to changing resource consumption, industrial agriculture, GMOs, global climate change and basic economics. Students may need to have the article broken down into sections to fully understand all he is saying, but it is worth the time spent analyzing Quiggan’s arguments.

Canada’s intact forests: world’s largest!

Canadian Geographic has just released a short article that certainly begs the half-full-half-empty glass question, or, this case, forests. Over 90% of Canada’s intact* forest is boreal forest, making it, at 300 million hectares, the largest intact forest in the world. However, the same can’t be said for some the species-rich southern forests which have almost eliminated. And, sadly, Alberta has only 16% of it’s intact boreal forestremaining. So, much to celebrate, but also much to consider.

*intact = a forest area of 50 000ha or larger.

Night Light Maps Open Up New Applications

Much has been written lately in the popular press regarding the new set of satellite images released by NASA showing Earth at Night. Few sources provide a clearer view of human settlement patterns contrasting heavily populated and industrialized areas with those less populated and/or less “plugged in”; while Europe and eastern North America gleam, much of Africa is dark despite its high population, although the Nile Valley and Delta sure stand out.

I particularly like the Earth at Night images for illustrating settlement patterns across Canada: high concentrations show up as the urban archipelago across the nation; there are regular, evenly-dispersed populations across the plainsfarmland of southwestern Ontario and, of course, the Prairies; mountain valleys in the west clearly show linear patterns as do the coastal margins of the Martimes and St. Lawrence and along with rail and road corridors across northern Ontario, while much of the rest of the Canadian Shield is dark except for randomly dispersed mining and logging settlements and First Nations’ communities.

I highly recommend spending a few minutes reading this article by the Earth Observatory, as it provides an insightful glimpse of the tech behind these wonderful images – ideal for anyone pursuing remote sensing.