• May 24th, 2024
  • Friday, 11:57:31 PM

A ‘Silent Killer’

Foto: Javier Sierra/Sierra Club Planta carbonera de Homer City, PA. Javier Sierra

Javier Sierra


With each new study, we are learning fossil fuel pollution is much more dangerous and lethal than presumed, especially to communities like mine.

A study by a group of universities, including Harvard, revealed that in 2018 the poisons emitted by the combustion of oil, gas and coal caused the premature death of 8.7 million people around the world. Researchers called the findings “astounding,” “devastating,” “staggering,” and concluded that this pollution accounted for one of every five deaths on the planet that year.

It adds that if fossil fuels were eliminated from human activity, life expectancy would increase by one year worldwide, and the economy and public health systems would save almost $3 trillion. The main culprit in these poisons is particulate matter, a microscopic subproduct of fossil fuel combustion, which lodges itself in the most remote corners of the lungs and can cause severe coronary disease.

This “silent killer,” as one of the researchers called it, is the same cause of the increase of spontaneous miscarriages in women who live in highly polluted areas, such as Beijing and some parts of Utah. Studies reveal that particulate matter can breach the placenta and potentially reach the fetus in the womb.

Likewise, a study by University College of London found that this pollution significantly increases the risk of blindness due to macular degeneration in people older than 40 who live in polluted areas. In very polluted regions, the risk goes up by at least 8 percent.

For decades, we Latinos have suffered the disproportionate punishment of the fossil fuel pollution in silence. It’s time to raise our voices to demand a clean and prosperous future.

The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, suffers from another type of blindness, one triggered by the greed of a business model that includes the destruction of the planet’s atmosphere and that keeps it from seeing its ruinous future. 2020 was the worst year in this industry’s history. Exxon—even though it overstated its assets—registered its first-ever loss, $22.4 billion, and its first dividend reduction in seven decades. Another giant, BP, lost $18 billion.

This general fossilization of the industry was exposed to the entire world by the electric power debacle that Texas suffered during one of the worst cold spells in its history. Millions of Texans—especially people of color and low-income households— were left without electricity and running water in the middle of freezing temperatures that caused the death of dozens of people. Texas’s electric grid—which overwhelmingly relies on fossil fuels and the Texas government never bothered to winterize it—literally froze. Gov. Gregg Abbott was quick to blame renewable energy for the catastrophe only to walk it back later. Meantime, in the Antarctic, wind turbines kept generating power, as were the solar panels on the International Space Station in -454 degrees Fahrenheit.

The future is undeniably clean. Since 2019, renewable energy has surpassed coal generation for the first time in the US in 130 years. The same happened in 2020 in Europe, where both wind and solar have doubled their capacity since 2015.

According to a recent report by the Sierra Club, investing $1 trillion a year for 10 years would create and sustain over 15 million good jobs —enough to end the current unemployment crisis—and cut climate pollution almost in half by 2030.  This includes over 5 million jobs to upgrade our infrastructure for clean water and transportation, over 4 million jobs to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency, and nearly 4 million jobs to restore our lands and support regenerative agriculture. This plan would particularly benefit people of color, including my Latino community.

For decades, we Latinos have suffered the disproportionate punishment of the fossil fuel pollution in silence. It’s time to raise our voices to demand a clean and prosperous future.


Javier Sierra is a Columnist with the Sierra Club. @javier_SC


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