Air Pollution from Fossil Fuels is Killing Way More People Than You Realize

You don’t usually see it or hear about it much, but air pollution is killing US citizens at a horrific rate – like having 9/11 happen every single week horrific.

155,000 people die prematurely (~10 years early) because of air pollution each year in the US according to a UN, EU, and US funded study that involved more than 40 experts from around the world. They note that this is a very conservative estimate.

The global numbers are even worse since 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in low or middle-income countries. Globally, 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution. That’s equivalent to almost six 9/11’s happening every day and makes air pollution a leading cause of death.

When all pollution is accounted for the number goes up to over 9 million deaths per year (16% of all people dying). This is 15x more deaths than all wars and violence and 3x more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

Another impact that surprised me was that air pollution is responsible for 150,000 new cases of type II diabetes each year in the US.


According to an MIT study, the main causes of air pollution in the US are from electricity generation and road transportation. Each is responsible for ~40,000 deaths a year. Below are the different sources of air pollution. The “baseline” is all sources combined.

Air pollution deaths in US - MIT study

These sources of air pollution that are killing us not only emit pollutants harmful to our health, but also greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are also harmful to our health, albeit indirectly, through climate change. I believe these indirect impacts will be far more destructive and deadly than the direct ones.

We are doing this to ourselves. However, we also have the ability to stop our self-inflicted harm by switching over to clean and economic solutions that are available now. Doing so will save lives today, with fewer pollution-related deaths, and save lives tomorrow, with fewer deaths from climate change.

Sorry for all the death talk, but it’s important to know this and somebody’s got to say it, right?

It’s not our fault that we inherited a system set up like this – a system that is now failing. But since we are now a part of that system and collectively determine how it works, we have the ability to, and should, work towards changing it in whatever ways we can.

When we reduce the burning of fossil fuels, we save lives.


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