Cars, once again, are killing us. They're killing us in crashes and accidents, yes, and they're encouraging us to grow obese and then killing us a little more slowly. But, more than ever before, they're killing us with their pollution.
Particulate air pollution, along with obesity, are now the two fastest-growing causes of death in the world, according to a new study published in the Lancet.
The study found that in 2010, 3.2 million people died prematurely from the air pollution–particularly the sooty kind that spews from the exhaust pipes of cars and trucks. And of those untimely deaths, 2.1 most were in Asia, where a boom in car use has choked the streets of India and China's fast-expanding cities with smog.
The Guardian reports that
"In 2010, more than 2.1m people in Asia died prematurely from air pollution, mostly from the minute particles of diesel soot and gasses emitted from cars and lorries ... Worldwide, a record 3.2m people a year died from air pollution in 2010, compared with 800,000 in 2000. It now ranks for the first time in the world's top 10 list of killer diseases, says the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study."
And the cars are going to keep piling up, too. Car ownership continues to skyrocket, as this handy little terrifying chart demonstrates.
There are now 114 million cars in China alone (which is still nothing compared to the U.S.) and the number grows between 4-8% every quarter. The cars used in China and India aren't subject to the same air quality restrictions they are in Europe and the U.S. And they're pouring into already gridlocked cities like Beijing and Dehli, where millions of them will sit idle in worsening traffic jams for hours on end, spewing exhaust emissions into nearby communities.
And the death toll will continue to rise, so as long as those economic powerhouses choose to turn to the automobile as their go-to future for transportation, to embrace them as status symbols, as aspirational freedom mobiles as Americans did. Doing so of course will have further consequences down the road, after car ownership spurs sprawling, unsustainable development, but that's a topic for another day.
For now, suffice to say that the specter of death-by-air-pollution is rising, and it's being driven, pun-style, by a quest for suburbia and the middle class lifestyle of yester-century. There's plenty of alternative transit tech, plenty of urban planning options available already–subways, light rail, smart growth, etc If China and India's governments hope to keep their citizens from dying off early, they'll start moving to tame the car now. Americans, of course, should follow suit.