While it is true that the environmental impacts take time to unfold, the adverse health effects of air pollution can be short-term and surprisingly largescale.
A 2010 report published by the American Heart Association found, for example, that a slight increase in small particulate matter concentrations causes “the premature death of approximately 1 susceptible person per day in a region of 5 million people”. While the risk to the individual is small, the cumulative impact is enormous. Indeed, the report notes that “short-term increases in PM2.5 [small particulate matter] levels lead to the early mortality of tens of thousands of individuals per year in the United States alone.”
These short-term consequences challenge the notion that air pollution works only by passively poisoning its victims and instead, makes it clear that air pollution actively ends lives every day that it remains unaddressed.
By reframing the problem from a long-term to a short-term issue, the environmental challenge takes on a new urgency. The dangers of air pollution should not be seen as a distant spectre and changing public perception will be crucial to mobilizing action.