Here’s Where You’re Most Likely to Die From Air Pollution

You can practically hear the wheezing from space.


This story first appeared on the Atlantic Cities website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Where on earth are you most likely to die early from air pollution? NASA provides the answer with this mortally serious view of the planet, and it is: lots of places.

Like tar stains on a healthy lung, the sickly yellow and brown areas in this visualization represent regions with significant numbers of pollutant-influenced deaths. Heavily urbanized places in eastern China, India, Indonesia, and Europe are stippled by the darkest colors of snuff, meaning they experience rates of ruination as high as 1,000 deaths per square kilometer each year.

In good news, areas painted in blue show where humanity has managed to lower its output of choking smog since the 1850s. These safer havens include spots in the middle of South America and the southeastern United States, where the amount of agricultural burning has decreased since the mid-19th century.

This representation of our befouled atmosphere is based on the work of Jason West, an earth scientist at the University of North Carolina who’s investigating the health effects of bad air. According to computer models that West and his team constructed, an incredible 2.1 million deaths a year can be attributed to one type of pollution alone—fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which are teensy specks that fly out of car-exhaust pipes, industrial smokestacks and other things. (They’re also what the NASA map is referencing.)

The medical community has linked breathing PM2.5 with afflictions from asthma to lung disease to heart attacks. It’s obviously bad to be in the middle of a toxic particle cloud caused by some intense human activity, as Singaporeans were this summer thanks to land-clearing fires set by their neighbors in Sumatra. But that’s not the only way that PM2.5 can getcha, says NASA:

In most cases, the most toxic pollution lingers for a few days or even weeks, bringing increases in respiratory and cardiac health problems at hospitals. Eventually the weather breaks, the air clears, and memories of foul air begin to fade. But that’s not to say that the health risks disappear as well. Even slightly elevated levels of air pollution can have a significant effect on human health. Over long periods and on a global scale, such impacts can add up.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in China and northern India, where dense bands of premature deaths pop out. You can practically hear the wheezing from space:

Map made by NASA’s Robert Simmon based on data from Jason West

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate