On 7 million deaths from air pollution

ATTN published a video of An-huld (the really cool guy who made my childhood by being in all my favorite action movies like Predator* and who ended up being the governor of California). In that short clip, Schwarznegger starts by saying that 7 million individuals die from pollution-related illnesses.

That number is correct. But it is misleading.

People see pollution as “all and the same”. But some forms of pollution increase with development (sulfur emissions and some would argue that too much CO2 emissions is pollution as it causes climate change). However, others drop dramatically – especially heavy particules (Pm10) which are a great cause of smog. Julian Simon (the late cornucopian economist who is one my greatest intellectual influence) pointed out this issue and noted that the deadliest forms of pollution are those that relate to underdevelopment.

Back in 2003, Jack Hollander published the Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence is the Environment’s Number One Enemy. Hollander pointed out that simply from the combustion of organic matter (read: firewood and animal manure – literally burning fecal matter) indoors for the purposes of heating, cooking and lighting was responsible for close to 2 millions deaths.

Since then, the WHO came out with a study pointing out that around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes with open fires and stoves that rely on biomass or anthracite-coal. They put the number of premature deaths directly resulting from this at over 4 million people. This is close to 60% of the figure cited by the former President of California (yes, I know he was governor – see here). In other words, 60% of the people who die prematurely as a result of strokes, ischaemic heart diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and lung cancers can be attributed to indoor air pollution. That means pollution resulting from the fact that you are so poor that you have to burn anything at hand at the cost of your health.

True, richer countries pollute and there are policy solutions (I have often argued that governments are better at polluting than at reducing pollution, but that is another debate) that should be adopted. But, these forms of pollution do not harm human life as much as those that come with poverty.

* By the way, when you watch Predator, do you realize that there are two future American governors in that movie? I mean, imagine that when Predator came out, some dude from the future told you that two of the main actors would end governing American states. Pretty freaky!

Economists and Environmentalists: Divergent Values?

Following Simon, the author of The Bet suggests that the disagreement between environmentalists and economists may be due to a divergence in values. People in Ehrlich’s camp believe that values can exist outside human minds and claim priority over human values. Although Sabin does not go there, the practical implication is that people in Ehrlich’s camp feel justified in imposing their ideal society on those who don’t share their values, which they disguise under the mantle of science. Hence the environmentalists’ inclination to boss people around.

This is from Pierre Lemieux’s new review of The Bet, a book on an infamous bet between an economist and a biologist in 1980 (the economist won).

One could easily replace ‘economist’ with ‘libertarian’ and ‘environmentalist’ with anything and could find the same debate being played out. This observation of mine, if correct, prompts a number of questions (such as “why aren’t all economists libertarians?” or “why are libertarians so pugnacious?”), but so does the loser of the bet’s reaction to his loss (you’ll have to read the review to find out!).

The Bet is by Yale historian Paul Sabin. Here is the link to his book.