You and Your 27 Friends Will Kill Someone – Premature Deaths Caused by Consumption

Consumption of G20 Nations

The consumption of G20 nations was responsible for 78,000 premature deaths of infants worldwide. Credit: NIES

Japanese and Australian researchers show the number of premature deaths worldwide caused by consumption in G20 nations.

Their very small size is what makes PM2.5 so dangerous. Easily inhalable, they accumulate inside the lungs, where they severely increase the risk of cancer and other deadly diseases. Yet it is the poor that are especially vulnerable to PM2.5 and die prematurely. 

“Most deaths are in developing countries, and without international coordination the situation will worsen,” said Dr. Keisuke Nansai, Research Director at the Material Flow Innovation Research Program of the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan, who had been a visiting professor at ISA of the University of Sydney, and one of the lead authors of the study.

While most countries acknowledge they contribute to PM2.5 levels, there is little agreement on how much and thus their financial responsibility. In particular, far harder to measure than the direct production of PM2.5 by factories and cars is the amount caused by consumption.

This is a vital question to answer, says Nansai. Unlike direct production, which first affects the producing nation and then spreads across borders to neighboring nations, the PM2.5 caused by consumption may originate in distant nations and have negligible effects on the consuming nation.

“Pollution in the form of production emissions creates a motive to implement joint PM2.5 reduction measures in neighboring countries. Such cooperation is unlikely among countries that are geographically distinct,” said Nansai.

G20 members make up more than three quarters of international trade and the world’s economic output. Therefore, Nansai and his colleagues reasoned, understanding the impact the consumption of these nations has on PM2.5 levels would provide a reliable benchmark.

Using Eora, a database made nearly a decade earlier to measure global supply chains around the world, the study mapped out the emissions made by consumption alone.

The study shows that consumption by the world’s most consuming nations, such as the U.S. and U.K, causes a significant number of premature deaths in faraway nations, such as China and India, whereas the premature deaths caused by production habits are more common in neighboring nations like Mexico and Germany.

COVID-19, the pandemic that has changed the world, is a respiratory disease that is most lethal to the elderly. Similarly, the premature victims of PM2.5 are also mostly elderly. However, unlike COVID-19, the study found another group alarmingly susceptible to the PM2.5 produced by consumption.

“We found that the consumption of G20 nations was responsible for 78 000 premature deaths of infants [up to 5 years old] worldwide,” noted Nansai.

The effect was not too great in most G20 nations, such that the average age of premature deaths was nearly 70 years old. However, in some countries, namely, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, premature infant death was so prevalent that the average age of premature deaths was under 60 years old. Similarly, the average age of premature deaths in India and Indonesia barely crossed this threshold.

Nansai and his colleagues stress that if consumption is not considered, then most countries will not think they should pay any penalty for these deaths.

“As long as responsibility for infant deaths due to production emissions is the only issue pursued, we can find no rationale for nations to confront the mass death of infants [in faraway nations],” they write in the study.

Finally, to emphasize the impact that PM2.5 levels from consumption level alone has on human health, the study concluded that the lifetime consumption of 28 people in G20 nations will cause the premature death of one person worldwide.

Reference: “Consumption in the G20 nations causes particulate air pollution resulting in two million premature deaths annually” by Keisuke Nansai, Susumu Tohno, Satoru Chatani, Keiichiro Kanemoto, Shigemi Kagawa, Yasushi Kondo, Wataru Takayanagi and Manfred Lenzen, 2 November 2021, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-26348-y

3 Comments on "You and Your 27 Friends Will Kill Someone – Premature Deaths Caused by Consumption"

  1. As if pre-industrial people didn’t experience lung damage from the smoke from small heating and cooking fires, often conducted inside small structures! There are places in Africa where the density of smoke from small cooking fires is so dense that it noticeably degrades the quality of satellite imagery. They aren’t producing consumer products for people in far away G20 nations! They are just trying to survive.

    “Most deaths are in developing countries …” This strongly suggests that the problem is still with small domestic fires instead of industrial activity.

    This seems to be another study where the ‘researchers’ have decided that industrial activity based on fossil fuels is bad, and they have created a rationalization to support their belief.

  2. Looks like we’re just supposed to guess what PM2.5 means since the author of the article didn’t bother to explain it. More and more of these articles are being written by people who don’t seem to understand the basics of writing. Things like, first define your terms.

  3. “Nansai and his colleagues stress that if consumption is not considered, then most countries will not think they should pay any penalty for these deaths.

    dear god, the lede is worse than the headline. About 10 years ago the artificial butter junk used in prepackaged microwave popcorn bags and elsewhere was found to be nasty in a carcinogenic way and knocking employees off. They would be laughed out if they tried to sue the customers. They might be able to obtain right to sue a theater chain, but there would have to be heavy duress and “you have to bring the price down a little” doesn’t count. The factory would have to raise prices to deal with all of the new workers’ comp filings, but that is how it gets passed along.

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