John Vidal at Literary Review:
And what a scandal! The scale of this modern plague, we have begun to see, is staggering. We have long known that nearly three million people in poor countries die prematurely each year from inhaling wood smoke from open fires used for cooking, but we didn’t know until quite recently that many people in modern cities are having their lives cut short as a result of breathing in vehicle exhaust gases and industrial fumes. The official narrative has been that since the end of coal-burning in homes in the 1950s and the demise of heavy industry, urban air has been relatively clean, leaving us with nothing to worry about. The reality is shockingly different. We understand now that air pollution doesn’t just harm our lungs, as coal dust did, but also gets into the bloodstream. The World Health Organisation reckons that nine in ten people around the world breathe air containing ‘high levels’ of pollution; it is responsible for 26 per cent of premature deaths from heart disease, 24 per cent of those from strokes and nearly one-third of all deaths from lung cancer. It is linked to obesity in children, autism and dementia.