It seems to be getting tougher to breathe. Schools were shut down in Rybnik, Poland, the first week of January because the pollution posed such a risk to children. Warsaw residents inhale the equivalent of 1,000 cigarettes a year. An estimated 45,000 Poles will die prematurely this year due to air pollution, The New York Times reported.
The nation burns a lot of coal, providing 85 percent of its electricity and 43 percent of its heat. When brutal cold swept into the country in early January, home heating units went into overdrive, and many of them are hugely inefficient.
Sadly, Poland is not the only country where breathing is killing people. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that 90 percent of the people on the planet live in areas with unsafe air pollution levels. If you spend any time looking at the international pages of newspapers and magazines, you’ve probably seen people in Beijing and Delhi walking around with protective masks. The World Bank estimates that air-related deaths cost $225 billion a year. That’s serious money.
The good news is that if the United States and other nations make progress on climate change, we can count on simultaneous progress on cleaning up the air we breathe. As we burn less coal and other fossil fuels, fewer of us will die prematurely. We’ll miss less work. Fewer kids will suffer from asthma. As Dr. Phil Landrigan of Mount Sinai Medical School told Time, “You make the case on public-health grounds, you make a moral case, you make a business case."
The baking of planet Earth is proceeding without interruption. Last year was the hottest year on record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — edging out 2015, which had taken the crown from 2014. Of the world's 17 warmest documented years, 16 have come in this century.