Greenhouse Gas Emissions Endanger the Public's Health Today

Dec 03, 1997, 00:00 ET from World Resources Institute

    WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- As many as eight million lives could be
 saved if climate control policies are soon adopted worldwide, according to an
 internationally recognized group of scientists, physicians and health experts.
     The Working Group on Public Health and Fossil-Fuel Combustion, convened by
 Dr. Devra L. Davis of the Washington, DC-based World Resources Institute,
 predicts that if the world continues with current patterns of energy
 consumption into the next century, instead of implementing international
 greenhouse gas control policies, this lack of action will have serious global
 short-term public health consequences.*  These findings are published in The
 Lancet (November 8, 1997), the world's oldest medical journal, and in
 Environmental Health Notes, a WRI health, environment and development
 publication. Highlights from the findings include:
     --  AIR PARTICLES ARE DEADLY: Industrial processes that form greenhouse
 gases also produce a host of other air pollutants, including deadly airborne
 particles that have immediate public health impacts.
     --  From the year 2000 to 2020, the total number of avoidable deaths could
 reach 8 million worldwide (1.1 million in developed countries, and 6.9 million
 in developing countries).  For the U.S. alone (over this same period), nearly
 half a million avoidable deaths are projected to occur.
     --  By the year 2020, over 700,000 deaths worldwide will occur annually
 from exposure to particles as a result of fossil-fuel burning that could be
 avoided by a climate control policy. (The 700,000 figure under-estimates the
 real value due to limiting assumptions used in analysis.  For example, not all
 sources of particulate air pollution were included.)
     --  The projected number of annual avoidable deaths in the United States
 in 2020 (33,000) would  be  of the same magnitude as occurred in 1995 as a
 result of HIV infections, and all liver-related diseases; thus, avoidable
 deaths tied with air pollution from fossil fuels rank among the top ten causes
 of death today.
     *(Note:  The study assesses a climate policy scenario based upon the
 European Union proposal which calls for a 15 percent reduction by developed
 nations in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by the year 2010.  In addition,
 the climate policy scenario proposes a 10 percent reduction from "business as
 usual" in carbon emissions of developing countries by 2010.)
     --  New animal and human studies confirm that airborne fine particles can
 sicken or kill people.  For example, laboratory rats with respiratory
 disorders died after being exposed to air pollution at concentrations found
 today in Massachusetts.  Studies in many countries show that particles
 increase premature deaths in infants and adults.
     --  AIR PARTICLES TRAVEL GLOBALLY: Air pollutants from fossil fuels have
 global impacts are not just a local, national or regional concern  because
 they can be transported thousands of miles.  Fine particles, for example, from
 the Kuwaiti oil fires,  have been detected thousands of miles away.
     -- In 1990, respiratory diseases were a leading cause of disabilities and
 illnesses worldwide. By 2020, respiratory-related diseases are projected to
 rank among the top ten causes of poor health globally.
     --  Data suggest that air pollution from outdoor and indoor sources
 (cooking and heating fuels, for example) is responsible for more than 1
 million deaths per year in China (that is, about one in every eight deaths
     --  Regardless of how or when greenhouse gases alter climate, reducing
 them now will save lives worldwide by lessening particulate air pollution.
 Any action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions requires the reduced burning of
 fossil fuels.
     -- Patterns of rapid growth and development in emerging mega-cities of the
 developing world can impose significant involuntary risks from air pollution
 on large proportions of their population because of the concentration of
 multiple sources of emissions from fossil fuels.
     --  Climate control policies will yield multiple benefits -- reducing both
 local and global air pollution and lessening the build-up of greenhouse gases.
     About the Working Group
     Dr. Devra Lee Davis, a leading environmental health researcher and
 director of the Health, Environment, and Development  Program of the
 Washington, D.C.-based World Resources Institute, convened the working group.
 International experts in energy modeling, climate, atmospheric chemistry, and
 public health from the World Health Organization, the Environmental Protection
 Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Harvard University,
 University of California, Berkeley and private consulting firms, collaborated
 in the conduct of this assessment.  The team included Professors Richard
 Wilson and Joel Schwartz of Harvard University, Drs. Tord Kjellstrom and Rudi
 Slooff of the World Health Organization, and Drs. William Hohenstein, Dwight
 Akinson and Tracey Woodruff, of the U.S. EPA.  For detailed information on the
 study, please refer to, or call WRI at (202) 638-6300.
     Other Expert Contacts
     Eric Chivian                 617-432-0493
       (Harvard Medical School)   617-432-2595
     Anthony McMichael            0171-927-2254
     M.S. Swaminathan             44-1865-310-210 (Hotel)
       (Madras India)             44-1865-274-775 (Crispin Tickell's Office)
     Sir Crispin Tickell (Oxford) 44-1865-274-775
     Prof. Lester Lave            412-268-8837
       (Carnegie Mellon University)
     The World Resources Institute provides objective information and practical
 proposals for policy change that will foster environmentally sound
 development.  WRI works with institutions in more than 50 countries to bring
 the insights of scientific research, economic analysis, and practical
 experience to political, business, and non-governmental organization leaders
 around the world.

SOURCE World Resources Institute