Green Junction: Existential Threat to Human Health by Julie Peller Ph.D. threat to human health 

A newly released article describes modern-day pollution levels as “an existential threat to human health and planetary health, and jeopardizes the sustainability of modern societies.” The authors studied 2019 data from Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors and determined that 9 million people, or 1 in 6 people, die each year due to pollution exposures. The deaths are concentrated in the poorer communities around the world. The primary pollution sources are mostly developed-world pollutants: fossil fuel burning, automobile combustion, and toxic chemical pollution.

The researchers indicate that pollution, the climate crisis, and the destruction of wildlife and nature are linked. One author explains, “Preventing pollution can also slow climate change – achieving a double benefit for planetary health – and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”  The study states that deaths from toxic air pollutants and chemicals have risen by 66% since 2000. This is primarily due to increased fossil fuel burning, poor urban planning, and a rising population.

             In modern society, pollution and the climate crisis are critical life concerns. Yet, the articles and communications about this study and others are primarily absent from news outlets or are buried on back pages. Most people/societies, especially the affluent, continue to lead materialistic, energy-intensive lifestyles dependent on polluting entities. We function as though our lifestyles do not affect others, and/or our choice/freedom is more important than these public health outcomes. How many people in leadership roles discuss these devastating threats to human life? It takes true moral courage for leaders to highlight our disturbing reality; when this happens, we can begin to make changes and ensure fewer people die from constant exposure to pollution and future generations have the opportunity to live on a healthy planet.

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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