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How Deadly Are Fossil Fuel Emissions?

Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The push to end mankind's reliance on fossil fuels is growing more urgent, according to the latest research. While previous studies determined that approximately 4.2 million people died every year from breathing air polluted with particulate matter, that research didn't distinguish between deaths caused by fossil fuel emissions and those linked to other airborne particles.

The 2018 study, from Harvard University in collaboration with three British universities, came to the conclusion that the actual number is more than double what was previously believed, at 8.7 million deaths. That means nearly one in every five deaths worldwide is directly connected to burning fossil fuels, which can cause asthma, cancer, coronary heart disease, and other illnesses.

"We can't in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives," said Eloise Marais, a co-author of the study. According to the research, the areas with the worst levels of fossil fuel-based air pollution include North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

Fossil fuel facts:

  • Many of the fossil fuels employed by mankind began forming over 300 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period.

  • In 2019, U.S. consumption of renewable energy surpassed coal consumption for the first time in over 130 years.

  • However, despite the push toward renewable energy, around 85 percent of the world's energy is supplied by fossil fuels.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By anon1004583 — On Mar 10, 2021

Based on the premise of this article, one would expect some sort of correlation with a decrease in life expectancy with an increase use of fossil fuels, especially in countries like like the US. Please show where life expectancies or even quality of life has decreased over the last 150 years. Everyone breathes air and dies. Everyone needs food and water along with air to survive “temporarily”.

The point is we all will die. Bad diets, bad habits and bad water can also cause an early than necessary demise. We should all strive for clean air and water. But at the same time, if the health of the individual is paramount, then a good diet combined with moderate exercise will be much more beneficial than driving their Tesla to admire their wind farms.

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