While much of the criticism surrounding the burning of fossil fuels focuses on the long term impacts to the health of the planet, it can also have devastating short-term effects on the health of the human population. A new study led by Harvard scientists has shed new light on the extent of this problem, finding air pollution arising from fossil fuels to be responsible for more than eight million deaths around the world in 2018.
The study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London (UCL), and focuses on a type of air pollution called particulate matter (PM) 2.5, which refers to very fine dust particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in size.
These can arise from a variety of sources including forest fires, the tailpipes of cars and trucks, and the burning of fossil fuels. Due to their tiny size, they can penetrate the lungs and blood stream and, through chronic exposure, lead to health issues such as asthma, lung cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke.