Children At Risk
In a research paper published in the journal Plos Medicine, air pollution is likely to have been responsible for up to 6 million premature births and 3 million underweight babies worldwide every year. The latest findings say, indoor pollution, mostly from cooking stoves burning solid fuel like coal or wood, made up almost two-thirds of the total pollution burden on pregnancies in 2019. This is especially true in developing areas, like in some parts of south-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Rakesh Ghosh, an epidemiologist at University of California, San Francisco and lead researcher on the paper said, as mentioned by The Guardian, “At an individual level, indoor air pollution exposure appears to carry a much higher burden compared to outdoor levels.” Researchers found that, after controlling for risk factors like pregnancy weight, smoking and alcohol use and nutrition, air pollution was a leading cause of low birth weight and premature birth.
The above report is a gloomy one, but it shows how air pollution affects even unborn babies. Another study that was published in the journal ‘Science’ found that the average 6-year-old will live through roughly three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents. According to the study, a child born in 2021 will experience on average twice as many wildfires, between two and three times more droughts, almost three times more river floods and crop failures, and seven times more heatwaves during their lifetime compared to a person who is for example 60 years old today.
The study found that only those under 40 years told will live to see the consequences of the choices made on emissions cuts. Those who are older will have died before the impacts of those choices become apparent in the world. Study lead Wim Thiery told, as mentioned by MarketWatch, “The consequence of children suffering unprecedented sequences of climate extremes over the course of their lives can now be attributed to the inaction of today’s adults.” Thiery added, “It also shows how much can be gained by ambitious emissions reductions.”
There are several studies that show how air pollution is becoming a huge problem for this world, and it is affecting everyone, regardless of age. Let us show some numbers to you so that you can understand how bad this problem has become. Over 92% of the global population lives in areas where the outdoor air quality is below recommended limits set by the World Health Organization. Around 49% are exposed to equally high levels of indoor air pollution.
The findings build on previous research by Ghosh and colleagues, which calculated that air pollution contributed to the deaths of 500,000 new-borns globally in 2019. WHO has said that, an estimated seven million people die prematurely each year from diseases linked to air pollution.
On top of causing serious damage to public health, the cost of air pollution to the global economy is projected at over $2.9 trillion each year. The European Environment Agency (EEA) found that European industries emit air pollution that accrues damages of up to 430 billion euros ($500 billion) in a single year. This number is equivalent to around 2–3% of EU GDP.
Can This Be Reversed?
The study published in Plos Medicine said if we reduce air pollution in south-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the number of premature births and babies with low birth weight could be cut by almost 78% globally. The study published in Science said that, if countries manage to limit global warning to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, newborns’ risk of extreme heat exposure will decline almost by half.
WHO has said that almost 80% of deaths related to *PM2.5 could be avoided in the world if the current air pollution levels are minimised to those proposed in the updated guideline. (*PM2.5 refers to particles that have diameter less than 2.5 micrometres and remain suspended for longer. These particles are formed because of burning fuel and chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere).
All these environmental issues didn’t start just yesterday. Problems such as air pollution, plastic pollution, water pollution and more, have been going on for decades. The burning of fossil fuels and coal for energy, fracking, and oil fields have affected the environment to a greater extent. The awareness around saving our planet has grown tremendously amongst young people, with millennials and Gen Zers asking for better environmental policies from policymakers.
A report called Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon found that teenagers and people in their early 20s are increasingly worried that older generations and political leaders aren’t doing enough to prevent a climate-change catastrophe. The report also found that the young people are so worried to the point that four in 10 aren’t sure they will have children of their own.
We can understand their concerns because the recent reports are worrying. Despite governments encouraging renewable energy projects and companies, as well as, setting goals to achieve zero carbon emissions, the younger generation feels like these efforts aren’t enough. Also, the pandemic has impeded governments and companies’ efforts to reduce pollution. So, we feel that the voices of the current young generation shouldn’t be ignored by the policymakers any longer, and if they start listening, we believe we will be able to save our planet and leave a better environment for the future generations.