By Claire Parker

Breathing is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.

That’s according to the latest report from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, which says that air pollution now takes more than two years off the global average life expectancy — more than cigarettes, alcohol, or conflict and terrorism.

The annual report, known as the Air Quality Life Index, or AQLI, was released Tuesday. It found that particulate air pollution — a mixture of contaminants such as smoke, fumes, dust and pollen — has remained high, even as the coronavirus pandemic slowed the global economy and brought blue skies to some of the world’s most polluted areas.

At the same time, evidence of the health risks associated with pollution has grown, the index says, adding that world leaders aren’t treating the problem with the urgency it deserves.

“It would be a global emergency if Martians came to Earth and sprayed a substance that caused the average person on the planet to lose more than 2 years of life expectancy,” Michael Greenstone, director of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, said in a news release.

“This is similar to the situation that prevails in many parts of the world,” he said. “Except we are spraying the substance, not some invaders from outer space.”

Air pollution can lead to strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, according to the World Health Organization. It is on track to reduce the global average life expectancy by 2.2 years, the report says.

In comparison, smoking cigarettes cuts life expectancy by about 1.9 years, while drinking alcohol reduces it by eight months. Unsafe water and sanitation lead to a seven-month reduction in life expectancy, according to AQLI, with conflict and terrorism shaving off just nine days.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
Definition
Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Air Pollution
Definition
Air Pollution
Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion poses a grave threat to human health worldwide. EPIC research is using real-world data to calculate the effects of air pollution on human health...
AQLI
Definition
AQLI
Particulate air pollution is one of the most serious risks to human health globally. To help communicate those risks, the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) converts particulate air pollution into...