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Fear the Airpocalypse
Air Pollution Exacts a Deadly, Costly Toll

Air pollution kills millions of people around the world every year, and those premature deaths cost the global economy more then $5 trillion annually, according to a new study from the World Bank. The FT reports:

The estimates released on Thursday by the World Bank for the first time put a “welfare cost” on the toll from both indoor and outdoor air pollution and highlight how it has soared over the past quarter of a century, as developing economies such as China have rapidly industrialised and become more urban.

An estimated 5.5m lives were lost to diseases associated with air pollution in 2013, the latest year for which global data are available. More than 90 per cent of those premature deaths attributed to air pollution occurred in developing countries with children under 5 in lower income countries 60 times as likely to die from exposure to bad air as in high-income countries, according to the report.

If you were wondering why China has been so gung-ho over the past two years in its efforts to combat the toxic smog choking its cities, this should help explain it. Previous estimates from the World Bank have pegged the costs of Chinese air pollution at around 6 percent of the country’s GDP, once you factor in material damages, health care costs, and, of course, premature deaths. This is clearly a massive problem for Beijing.

And it’s getting bigger, too: the World Bank’s accounting shows that the “welfare costs” of air pollution increased by more than 500 percent between 1990 and 2013, thanks to China’s rapid industrialization. New Delhi is experiencing similar growing pains, and researchers say that the pace at which India’s air pollution is worsening is even faster than China’s.

The next time you read a headline about China’s surprising embrace of all things eco-friendly, remember that Beijing is likely more motivated by the hundreds of billions of dollars at stake than a deep abiding love for the planet.

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  • Kevin

    $5 trillion dollars annually for air pollution? These costs are absurd. Air and water polution is a serious issue, but the people it kills (90% in developing countries, mostly children and elderly?) are generally unproductive and thus do not cause a drop in the global economy’s output (unless they are counting for the future speculative wealth to be generated by children).

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    A hard look at the evidence does not indicate or prove premature deaths from smog. See:

    1. Steve Milloy China’s Bad Air Puts the Lie to EPA Scare Tactics, Jan 22, 2013
    2. American Council on Science and Health, EPA Junk Science on Air Pollution Deaths
    3. Peter Shawn Taylor, Junk Science Week: The Miss Smog Dead, Financial Post, June 15, 2010.

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