Whatever happened to pollution?

The year 2014 will most likely be the hottest year ever on record. That’s a feat to be proud of as a race.


Furthermore it seems like we’re heading for serious disaster.

Given those things, it’s quite good that “climate change” and “global warming” have been increasingly taken seriously by populations as problems to be solved.

Yet, one question comes to mind: whatever happened to “pollution”? A quick search over google n-grams suggests that the frequency of mentioning the word is declining relative to global warming and climate change.

Screenshot from 2014-12-09 20:19:36


While mentioning of “pollution” has gone down, its consequences are still very real: in the UK for example it is estimated that air pollution causes 29000 deaths pear year (extrapolating on a per capita basis would result in 174000 deaths per year in the US and 240000 deaths per year in the whole of Europe). The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people per year die prematurely because of air pollution.

Global warming and air pollution are, of course, extremely related. The same processes that release greenhouse gases, usually also release the toxic pollutants that kill millions annually. Yet global warming does not seem to be a priority for some people, in part because its effect is seen to be unsure and distant. The same cannot be said for air pollution. Everyday, our life expectancy goes down because of the air we breath. Cars, factories, oil, and other polluters are killing us right now – not 30 years from now because of sea level rise, but right now because of toxic particulates in the air.

Those causing both problems and less concerned about solving them will be happy if the issue of pollution and its millions of yearly related deaths is sidelined to give more space to global warming. I believe we should not be complacent with this shift in terms.








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