Covid is a bitch. It has killed 6.4 million people worldwide to date and counting. But compared to fossil fuels, it’s a piker. According to research by Harvard and three British universities, in 2018 air pollution from fossil fuels killed more than 8 million people. That’s death every year at the scale of the Holocaust. Putting it another way, air pollution from burning fossil fuels is responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths worldwide.

The fuels are a major source of airborne particulate matter and ground-level ozone, both of which are key contributors to mortality and disease.

Tragically, developing fetuses and children under five are more biologically and neurologically susceptible to the adverse effects than adults. The State of Global Air’s 2020 report states that one-fifth of all newborn deaths are caused by air pollution. Another study reports that it causes about six million premature births and nearly three million underweight babies every year.

Harvard Professor Dr. Joel Schwartz observes, “Often, when we discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion, it’s in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impact of the pollutants co-emitted with greenhouse gases.”

Indeed, keeping Dr. Schwartz’s words in mind, the disease and death toll from fossil fuels goes well beyond air pollution. The effects of CO2-driven climate change on human health and welfare are complex and manifold, including more extreme weather events, flooding, wildfires and crop failure.

When you consider the efforts and sacrifices we have put into dealing with Covid—necessary efforts and sacrifices—one might think we would put at least as much into dealing with the far greater harm caused by burning fossil fuels.

Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy offers, among its many benefits, immediate and major improvements in public health, including the prevention of millions of premature deaths annually. So let’s get transitioning

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