Terrorized by Air Pollution

The Awesome Will Bunch wrote an excellent piece last week that reminded me of arguments that I have been dragged into on Facebook during this election cycle. Specifically the “urgency” of fighting terrorism vs acting on climate. To wit:

Certainly their are environmental issues that we should attack.  But there are urgent issues that could cause us untold grief: the jihadists from the middle east coming over our southern border and as refugees, as well as those currently overrunning all the European countries that aren’t defending their own citizens, the grievance politics being fostered by the current administration, the non-functionality of some of our major cities like Detroit and Chicago, etc., as well as the topics [my uncle] mentioned.  Issues like these could terribly damage the futures of our children in very short order.  And kicking the can down the road is not a solution for urgent issues.

Ugh. Spoken like a true Low Information Voter, which unfortunately it is emblematic this election cycle, especially backers of that loud angry orange. Pew Research reports that 80% of registered voters consider terrorism to be an important issue in this campaign while only 52% consider “the environment” to be the same.

The fear of terrorism (if that is what it really is, because I am not convinced) is utterly misguided however. For starters, an act of terror is intended to invoke terror and a fearful reaction.  It’s in the name! These polls reflect we are giving terrorist what they want.  To honor their victims we should not be allowing ourselves to be terrorized, and not allowing it to be such an important issue to our democracy.

Also on the list of dangerous things we risk every day, terrorism shouldn’t even register.  Last October Politifact verified this statement by President Obama after a mass shooting

Number of Americans killed by terrorism in the last decade: 24. Number of Americans killed by guns in the last decade: 280,024.

That means we are more then 100,000 times more likely to die of just run of the mill gun violence in this country then terrorism.  We are also 1000s of times more likely to die from crossing the street, riding in a car, falling off a ladder or stairs or to stop breathing from drowning.

Also you are far more likely to die from just breathing as well. A recent study released by the American Thoracic Society estimates that 126 people die a year from air pollution in Philadelphia, another 115 in the surrounding area from and more then 9300 across the country.  Just in the past year.  The victims of air pollution aren’t limited to those who die of lung illnesses either.  Essentially everyone who lives near fossil fuel infrastructure like wells and refineries or high density cities with lots of cars and diesel engines is effected by the air pollution.  It’s the air, it’s everywhere!  Frequently this can lead to significant if not lethal effects like asthma, especially in children.

So who is really terrorizing us? A relatively small group religious zealots bent on terrible acts effecting an even smaller number of people directly? Or the behemoth fossil fuel industry that is poisoning our air, controlling our democracy and destroying the climate for future generations?  It’s time to focus on fixing what is really important instead of getting baited into wars we can’t win and fears that are unfounded.