Fossil fuel pollution behind four million premature deaths a year: Study
Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is responsible for more than four million premature deaths around the world each year and costs the global economy about $8 billion a day, according to a study.
The report, from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, found that burning gas, coal and oil causes three times the number of deaths as road traffic accidents globally, the Guardian reported.
Children, especially those living in low-income countries, are particularly affected with an estimated 40,000 dying each year before they reach their fifth birthday because of exposure to particulate pollution from fossil fuels.
“Air pollution is a threat to our health and our economies,” said Minwoo Son, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.
“Every year, air pollution from fossil fuels takes millions of lives, increases our risk of stroke, lung cancer and asthma, and costs us trillions of dollars.”
The study, released on Wednesday, analyzed global datasets of surface level concentrations of common pollutants PM2.5, ozone and NO2 to calculate the health impact and the subsequent economic cost for 2018. It found:
NO2, from petrol and diesel vehicles, power plants and factories, is linked to roughly four million new cases of asthma in children each year. Approximately 16 million children live with the condition due to exposure to fossil fuel pollution.
Tiny particulate pollution – known as PM2.5 – is attributed to roughly 1.8 billion days of work absence because of illness each year.
China, the US and India are hardest-hit financially by the impact of dirty air with estimated costs of $900 billion, $600 billion and $150 billion each year respectively.
The study argues that the solutions to the air pollution crisis are clear – and would also help tackle the climate emergency.
It says moving to a clean energy and transport system would have economic as well as health benefits. It cites research published in the US recently by the Environmental Protection Agency that shows every $1 invested under the US Clean Air Act yielded at least $30 in return.
Likewise, a weekly car-free day in
Bogota, Colombia, yielded up to $4 in health benefits for every $1 invested.
“This is a problem that we know how to solve,” said Son.
“By transitioning to renewable energy sources, phasing out diesel and petrol cars, and building public transport. We need to take into account the real cost of fossil fuels, not just for our rapidly heating planet, but also for our health.”
Hikikomori: Identifying extreme social isolation around the globe
Hikikomori, which means ‘pulling inwards’ in Japanese, is a condition in which those affected withdraw from society, often not leaving their homes for days on end.
It was first identified in Japan in the late 1990s but current research suggests that the condition is much more widespread than previously thought, BBC Science Focus magazine reported.
Alan Teo, an associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University, has been researching hikikomori for more than a decade. In an interview with Science Focus he said it’s time the condition was given a clearer definition to enable more effective treatments worldwide.
Science Focus: What is your new thinking on the definition of hikikomori?
Teo: We’re trying to revise the definition of hikikomori based on new information, new knowledge, new science and the combined experience that I’ve had interacting with individuals who have it, as well as my Japanese collaborator.
In a nutshell, the core feature of hikikomori is the sense of physical isolation in the home, whatever that home is.
I think a misunderstanding that has happened among the lay population is to think of hikikomori only as being the most extreme. I’ve talked with hikikomori who haven’t left their room, or who haven’t been out of their home for many, many years. But, they are much more extreme examples.
One of the messages here is that the definition also includes milder forms of social withdrawal.
Specifically, we’re saying that if you only leave the home three days a week or less, we’re proposing that figure to be the threshold for social withdrawal. In other words, the threshold to meet the definition of hikikomori.
Obviously the name’s Japanese, and that’s where hikikomori was first identified, but there’s more research coming out that it’s not a uniquely Japanese problem, is it?
No, it isn’t [uniquely Japanese]. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important that we’ve put out this new definition. There are clearly many reports of hikikomori from all over the world.
In addition, there’s more and more energy and excitement among scientists and researchers surrounding the subject. I’m getting contacted on a regular basis by researchers in France, Turkey and many other countries, who would like to study it.
One of the first steps in research is having a definition that you can operationalize. What that means is that we take a definition, and then we turn that definition into criteria that we can easily measure.
So, using that example of physical isolation that I brought up as being the core criteria, it is relatively easy to measure how often a person leaves their home. And this is one of the reasons I’ve included this measure in the new definition. This is something that scientists across countries and in different cultures can use and apply the definition consistently.
Are there any common features among people who are affected by hikikomori?
I think each person is an individual, and of course, there’s lots of variation even within a culture. That said, when I listened to stories of hikikomori, there are some common threads.
Usually, hikikomori develops over an extended period of time. It isn’t like a switch that just suddenly turns on. People with hikikomori often have had major stressors early in their life, such as bullying or academic difficulties in school. They may even have faced problems with attending school in the first place.
And that can fester and build up over time, turning into this prolonged social withdrawal that we see.
It’s likely they may also have challenges within their family relationships. So, let’s say that the 16-year-old son is hikikomori. He may be having difficulties with his parents, or his parents may be having difficulty in how they communicate and relate to their son. So, things like that.
Conflict within the family, difficulty with school or other early traumatic experiences – it all builds up over time until it reaches this syndrome of social withdrawal.
How would you research something like this? It seems that there may be difficulties in even contacting these people in the first place…
You’re hitting the nail on the head there. This has been one of the biggest impediments to moving research forward regarding hikikomori.
But there are also other impediments to moving research forward – funding, for example. But certainly, the difficulty of reaching out and getting individuals with hikikomori to participate in research has been a major barrier.
There’s a couple of thoughts that we have had in terms of trying to get around this. One of my interests is to do more research with family members because they are usually the first people to reach out for help.
I regularly get emails out of the blue, but they’re almost always from a brother, from a mother, from an aunt. Someone who says, “It is really tearing our family apart. Can you help us?” So, the family is the first point of contact, and they could be really helpful with regards to early identification.
We know that there’s a significant delay in terms of how long it actually takes for us to identify a case, and if family members are more engaged and can identify signs of hikikomori early on, then maybe we can intervene earlier and do better at treating the condition.
Italy should halt abusive migration cooperation with Libya: HRW
The Italian government should suspend all support to the Libyan Coast Guard until Libya commits to a clear plan to fully respect migrants’ safety and rights, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The plan should include closing abusive migrant detention centers and, in particular, a guarantee to protect migrants against arbitrary detention and inhuman and degrading treatment, hrw.org reported.
“Italy can’t paper over its complicity in the suffering of migrants and refugees who fall into the hands of the Libyan Coast Guard,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division.
“Humanitarian rhetoric doesn’t justify continued support to the Coast Guard when Italy knows people apprehended at sea will be returned to arbitrary detention and abuse.”
On February 9, 2020, the Italian Foreign Ministry announced that it had sent Tripoli its proposal for changes to the 2017 memorandum of understanding that provides the framework for cooperation on border control between the two countries. The statement says only that the changes are designed to increase protection for migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Libya, and to require consolidating the activities of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told Parliament on January 30 that Italy would advocate closing detention centers and opening facilities under UN auspices, as well as supporting greater voluntary returns from Libya to countries of origin.
Material and technical support from Italy has enabled the Libyan Coast Guard, under the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), to intercept thousands of people at sea. The Libyan Coast Guard then returns people to arbitrary, indefinite detention in facilities where they face a high risk of exploitation and violence, including rape. The memorandum of understanding automatically renewed for another three years on February 2. UNHCR figures show that almost 40,000 people have been intercepted and taken back to Libya since it was signed three years go.
On January 30, UNHCR announced that it was forced to close its Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, citing safety concerns amid ongoing hostilities in the capital. The center was designed to accommodate people slated for evacuation and resettlement in Europe and elsewhere but it was housing hundreds more who had escaped or were released from official detention centers since the conflict erupted in April 2019. UNHCR estimated in late December that some 4,000 people were locked up in official detention centers, to which humanitarian organizations and UN agencies have only sporadic
In January 2019, Human Rights Watch published evidence that support from Italy and other European Union member states for humanitarian assistance to detained migrants and asylum seekers, and for evacuation and repatriation programs, had done little to address the systematic problems with detention and mistreatment of migrants in Libya.
In a mid-January report on the activities of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the UN secretary general reiterated that Libya is not a safe port and urged all member countries to “revisit policies that support the return of refugees and migrants.” The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called on Italy to “urgently suspend” cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard “until clear guarantees of human rights compliance are in place.”
Cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard should only occur as necessary to comply with the obligation under international law of the sea to coordinate response to situations of distress at sea, Human Rights Watch said. Every effort should be made in these cases to ensure disembarkation outside of Libya.
“Instead of tweaking the Memorandum of Understanding,” Sunderland said, “the Italian authorities should insist on the closure of detention centers, direct its resources to supporting safe alternatives to detention, increase evacuations from Libya, including directly to Italy, and resume a leadership role in saving lives at sea.”
A British student died after swallowing eight “slimming pills” containing chemicals used in World War I explosives, a court in the UK heard, according to The Independent.