Air pollution kills far more people than COVID ever will

Air pollution kills far more people than COVID ever will (Bloomberg, Tyler Cowen op-ed), March 2021. And corporations could soon be forced to disclose their climate change denial funding (Jacobin)

More than 10 million people die each year from air pollution, according to a new study — far more than the estimated 2.6 million people who have died from Covid-19 since it was detected more than a year ago. And while Covid is headline news, ordinary air pollution remains a side issue for policy wonks and technocrats.

You might wonder whether the estimate of 10.2 million excess deaths from pollution is accurate. The study, which specifically examines global mortality from particulate matter generated by the combustion of fossil fuels, does deploy some complex measurement techniques. Still, if you believe that smoking is bad for people and sometimes kills them — a well-established fact — it stands to reason that air pollution is also bad.

I have been a frequent visitor to China and India over the years, and it was not unusual for the air pollution to be so terrible that I wanted to stay in my hotel room all day. As a relatively well-to-do visitor, I had this luxury — but many of the city’s residents do not. When they go outside, the air damages their respiratory and circulatory systems, shortening their lives.

The 10.2 million estimate draws upon 2012 data, and since 2012 China has cut its emissions considerably. Yet many other countries have seen more economic growth and more pollution over that time, so the inaccuracies from the limited data can cut in both directions.More fromCovid Relief Bigger Than World War II Budget? Sounds Right.Companies Can Pick Their InvestorsJames Dolan Wins With MSG Deal Even If Knicks Don’tSolving the Mystery of the 1957 and 1968 Flu Pandemics

If you are still skeptical, note that earlier World Health Organization estimates for annual deaths from air pollution typically range between 6 million and 7 million. To repeat: That is per year.

Why aren’t these deaths a bigger issue in U.S. political and policy discourse? One reason may be that 62% of those deaths are in China and India. The number of premature deaths due to particulate matter in North America was 483,000, just slightly lower than the number of measured deaths from Covid to date. An estimated 876 of those deaths were of children under the age of 4.

Another reason for the weak political salience of the issue may be its invisibility. Air pollution causes many deaths. But it is rare to see or read about a person dying directly from air pollution. Lung cancer and cardiac disease are frequently cited as causes of death, even though they may stem from air pollution.Opinion. Data. More Data.Get the most important Bloomberg Opinion pieces in one email.EmailSign UpBy submitting my information, I agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service and to receive offers and promotions from Bloomberg.

Another problem is that the question of how to better fight air pollution does not fit neatly into current ideological battles. You might think Democrats would emphasize this issue, but much of the economic burden of tougher action would fall on the Northeast, a largely Democratic-leaning area.

Or you might ask why there isn’t more focus on how many people die each year from global warming, either directly or indirectly. It is difficult to find an accurate estimate of that number, although it is almost certainly nowhere close to 10 million.

Talking more about air pollution also might distract from the larger fight against climate change, which seems to be a more salient issue for many intellectuals and activists. They may also think, perhaps correctly, that if they succeed in limiting climate change, air pollution will significantly decrease.

Still, the truth-teller in me is not quite happy with those explanations. If something is killing 10 million people a year, or even close to that, that phenomenon should be the main focus of debate. Is it so unreasonable to expect a nation’s politics and culture to have an explicit obsession with its biggest problems?

As for policy implications, this does raise the global social return to the U.S. search for greener energy sources. It also suggests a policy role for easing international licensing agreements for new energy and biomedical technologies. There are less costly but innovative responses: Since 2008, for example, the U.S. Embassy in China has been tweeting regular updates about Beijing’s air quality, making the Chinese public much more aware of the issue and leading to change in China and elsewhere.

The broader lesson is clear. Once you start taking air pollution seriously, the whole world starts to look different.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story: Tyler Cowen at To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Newman at


One of the defining features of organized denial is that it’s coordinated and relies on politicians, pundits and industry spokespeople singing from the same hymnal, each validating the other while appearing as though they’re working independently.

In Floodlight’s latest investigation, Emily Holden worked with Cooper McKim of Wyoming Public Media to expose the oil and gas industry’s influence on a government report that found President Biden’s ban on new oil and gas drilling would eliminate 18,000 jobs in Wyoming. 

While officially a Wyoming state product, the oil industry’s Western Energy Alliance (WEA) pitched the idea for the report, recruited University of Wyoming economist Tim Considine to write it, convinced the state to pay for it, and then heavily influenced and edited the final document. 

The Wyoming State Energy Program, a public program proposed by former Wyoming lawmaker Eli Bebout, president of Nucor Oil and Gas, used $114,000 in public funding for the report. In return, taxpayers got something that one expert told Floodlight inflates the economic impacts of Biden’s drilling ban by as much as 85%. 

That hasn’t stopped the industry, or the state, from extolling the report’s findings. The oil industry’s Energy in Depth blog was promoting a follow-up analysis the same day Floodlight revealed the corruption.  The follow-up analysis, from the University of Wyoming’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute looked at all standard production wells in legacy fields. According to a PowerPoint of the findings, the report assumed that all fields have a uniform potential to be exploited with advanced drilling methods meant to squeeze the remaining oil out of already-conventionally-drilled wells. But each well is different, and the industry has a costly history of vastly overestimating how much oil fracking can yield from an old well, so that alone is likely going to render the findings meaningless.

This isn’t the first time Wyoming spent public funds on fossil fuel spin, despite being an emerging wind power player. If they are worried about losing tax revenue due to Biden’s gas policies, they might consider letting the fossil fuel industry fund its own propaganda rather than devote taxpayer dollars to a phony report.


March 11, 2021 by Common Dreams Researchers Say ‘True Climate Leadership’ by US Would Be 60% Emissions Reduction by 2030

“Having the U.S. taking such strong action would reverberate across the world, and result in other countries also stepping up to adopt the kind of targets they need to make global net-zero a reality.” by Kenny Stancil

People hold signs calling for President Joe Biden to support a Green New Deal and end his support of pipelines and the fossil fuel industry in St. Paul on January 29, 2021. (Photo: Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

People hold signs calling for President Joe Biden to support a Green New Deal and end his support of pipelines and the fossil fuel industry in St. Paul on January 29, 2021. (Photo: Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

For the Biden administration to meet its long-term target of net-zero emissions by 2050, the United States must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 60% below 2005 levels by 2030, according to a new report released Thursday.

In its analysis (pdf), Climate Action Tracker (CAT) found that in order for the U.S. to do its fair share to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C by the end of the century—the goal of the Paris Agreement—the country must slash at least 57% to 63% of its emissions by the end of the decade and provide financial support to developing nations striving to transition away from climate-destroying fossil fuels.

Having officially rejoined the Paris Agreement earlier this year, the Biden administration is currently preparing to unveil a new domestic emissions reduction target, known as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The U.S. is expected to announce its Paris Agreement pledge for 2030 prior to a climate leaders’ summit the White House is hosting on Earth Day, which falls on April 22.

The report emphasizes that “setting a strong and fair NDC is only the first step.”

“Even if President Joe Biden were to adopt the Paris Agreement 2030 target we suggest he should, he still needs to implement policies to get the U.S. onto this emissions pathway towards zero greenhouse gas emissions,” said Professor Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, one of the two CAT partner organizations.

“He has already announced a number of plans, which are positive first steps,” Höhne added, “but not all of them are Paris Agreement compatible, nor would they be enough to meet our suggested 1.5˚C compatible target.”

CAT analyzed Biden’s plans for three sectors of the U.S. economy—power, transportation, and buildings—and compared them with Paris Agreement-compatible benchmarks defined in a previous study.

According to the new report:

  • Biden’s plan to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035—an objective he set in motion with an Executive Order requiring federal agencies to develop a procurement plan for carbon-free electricity—is consistent with a Paris Agreement pathway.
  • Biden’s proposal to gradually transition toward clean mobility, with a focus on the electrification of light-duty passenger vehicles (LDV), is insufficient. Although transportation is the largest source of emissions in the U.S., Biden has yet to set clear targets or timelines. CAT estimates that to comply with the Paris Agreement, 95% to 100% of nationwide sales of LDV must be zero-emissions by 2030.
  • Biden’s plan to cut the carbon footprint of the U.S. buildings sector in half by 2035 through retrofitting, appliance electrification, and on-site renewable energy generation is a step in the right direction. However, CAT estimates that to be consistent with the Paris Agreement, emissions need to be about 60% lower in residential buildings and 70% lower in commercial buildings by 2030, compared with 2015 levels.

The research conducted by CAT demands bolder climate policies to slash emissions more thoroughly and rapidly than others have proposed.

As Reuters reported, “European Union officials… are calling on Washington to reduce emissions at least 50% this decade below 2005 levels,” while environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Resources Institute, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council “have coalesced around a 50% reduction target for 2030.”

While the 50% target advocated by the America Is All In coalition “is close to a 1.5˚C pathway for the U.S.,” CAT stressed that “this target would still result in a gap of 0.5-0.9 GtCO2e emissions in 2030.”

“For President Biden to show true climate leadership, we would want to see him coming forward with an ambitious, science-based target that would encourage domestic action toward decarbonizing the economy,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, the other CAT partner.

“It would be a major boost to international climate cooperation,” Hare added. “Having the U.S. taking such strong action would reverberate across the world, and result in other countries also stepping up to adopt the kind of targets they need to make global net-zero a reality.”Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.