A new study by Harvard and several British universities is reporting that fossil fuel pollution is causing one in five of the world's premature deaths, meaning that the health effects of burning coal, oil, and natural gas may be even worse than previously thought.
Harvard was joined by University College London as well as the universities of Leicester and Birmingham.
The researchers say that they believe 8.7 million people are dying annually from problems correlated with fossil fuels, such as respiratory diseases.
A previous study in 2017 had the number far lower, 4.2 million, and it didn't differentiate between fossil fuel pollution and other air quality issues; for example: the smoke from wildfires.
Doctor Eloise Marais is one of the study's authors, from University College London:
"This is an extraordinarily high estimate. We were also blown away by just how large the estimate was that we obtained. Our study certainly isn’t in isolation in finding a large impact on health due to exposure to air pollution. There are studies with these statistical models that I mentioned also incorporating more and more information about adverse health outcomes associated with air pollution and tending towards a higher estimate of premature mortality (...) loss of eyesight, cognitive ability, dementia, there’s so many studies that it's, the consensus is really that air pollution is worse for health than we originally thought.”
To find their numbers, the researchers mapped out clusters of deaths around the world from those health problems commonly associated with air pollution. That was compared with pollution modeling maps, separating out specific types such as industrial factors, cars, or dust -- to see more closely what people were breathing, and where.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they say the worst hit areas include parts of China, India, Europe, and the northeastern United States.