Like the birds, who breathe poisoned air, too many people die each year worldwide, from bad air. The World Health Organization estimates that over 7 million die from bad air. And over 4 million die from the air outside their homes, from air that is not under their control.

Conditions are improving in the U.S., according to the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, as the quality of the air around us improves. Still, over 100,000 pollution-related deaths occur every year in the U.S. The primary pollutant causing the most deaths is fine particulate matter created from humans. What can we do about it?

First, identify the sources. Environmental Science & Technology Letters identifies five key activities that contribute to pollution: electric generation, passenger cars, industrial boilers-internal combustion engines, residential cooking and livestock rearing. The journal also identifies three key processes that contribute to pollution: diesel, gasoline and coal combustion.

Second, change the way we do pollution-making activities. We can reduce pollution if we switch to renewable sources of energy, electrify our cars, switch to electric motors for industrial uses and eat less beef.

Third, get feedback. As U.S. mortality rates have dropped, so has the use of coal in energy production. The correspondence between the two declining rates at least corroborates the claim that burning coal is bad for health.

If we end our love affair with coal and oil as a source of heat, we will do more than save the polar bears. We will also save the birds, and maybe save ourselves.

Peter Konieczko

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