7:53 p.m. Tuesday, like so many Tuesdays before, with the vagaries of weather governing so many people’s actions, but not Sung’s… Like every day for nine years now, he’s on his daily after-work jog. Sung is an accountant at a bank specializing in wealth management. He was hired there after finishing his studies at 24 years old and has continued to rise through the ranks since.
As always, his run takes him to the Coex Aquarium, and he slows down his stride a little to observe the immense building glittering in the forest of glass and metal around it. He knows it by heart; he knows every nook and cranny. Sung has always lived there, here, in Seoul, and he wouldn’t change this atmosphere of timelessness for nothing in the world. The frantic rhythm of a megalopolis which never sleeps suits him so well.
Yet today is different; he feels that something is not right. He feels more tired than usual, more out of breath than usual. He suddenly starts feeling palpitations. Some of his heartbeats are delayed, delivering disturbing, stressful “booms” and forcing him to stop for big, saving breaths. Sung has the feeling that his heart is about to stop.
“Something wrong young man?” He breathes the hoarse voice of an 80-year-old lady pulling greedily on a cigarette while contemplating him.
– “I can’t catch my breath and feel my heart beating randomly… If I just calm down, I think it will be fine …”
– “Your heart beats randomly, and at times, you feel like the next beat will never come. But when it finally does, it’s much louder than the others, right?”
– “Yes, that’s exactly it. But since I stopped running, my pulse is slowing down, and I feel a little better …”
– “These are called extrasystoles. They are not serious, but you will have to consult a doctor. It is safer, believe me. I was a practicing pediatrician for 53 years, and this city’s pollution has a terrible impact on people’s lungs and hearts.”
– “Thank you very much; it is very kind of you. I will visit my GP asap.”
– “You’re welcome; medicine never stops. Take heart, young man!” She got up slowly and left, appraising that Sung was already doing a little better and thus, did not need the assistance of an old lady – even one that used to be a doctor!
Sung ends his journey walking and rehashing what the lady had told him (he also regretted not being polite enough to ask her name, but that was because of anxiety). The pollution impacts the lungs (he knew that, and he was aware of it) and the heart (he had never heard this before, and it was difficult to understand why; he was going to, though), and yet …
And yet, studies depict the direct impact of air pollution on cardiovascular disease. For example, a WHO report in 2018 highlighted that
9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air, and around seven million die prematurely each year:
- 34% by ischemic heart disease (infarction).
- 20% by stroke.
- 21% by pneumonia.
- 19% by chronic bronchitis.
- 7% from lung cancer.
Air pollution decreases life expectancy by an average of three years. [Thomas Müngel et al., 2021].
With these dire consequences, atmospheric pollution causes many unpleasant and disabling effects. As a result, air pollution directly impacts the quality of life. This same WHO report describes the following symptoms:
- Eye and nasal irritation.
- Chronic coughs.
- Decreased fertility.
- Premature birth.
- Increase in asthmatic and allergic symptoms directly caused by Particulate Matter.
Here we are at the famous Particulate Matter that everyone has probably heard of. But what exactly are these fine particles, and how do they impact your health?
They are, in fact, tiny molecules suspended in the air. Their compositions are complex and often combine sulfates,
nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, carbon, minerals, and water. They are classified according to their sizes in:
- PM 10: Size less than 10μ. They penetrate the bronchial tree and cause pathologies in the upper part of the respiratory system.
- PM 2.5: Size less than 2.5µ. Due to this tiny size, they pass through the pulmonary alveoli and thus end up in the bloodstream.
These particles are at the origin of sometimes severe cardiovascular pathologies
[Ok-Jin Kim et al. Environment Health, 2020].
Side-note: 1μ = 10 -3 mm = 10-6 m = 0.0000001 m! And to get a clearer idea: It’s a thousand times thinner than your favorite T–Shirt!
But where do these tiny, harmful particles originate from?
Outdoor pollution is caused, among other things, by exhaust gases, district heaters, industry, and agriculture.
This atmospheric pollution’s impact is felt worldwide, despite some significant disparities. The effect depends on various parameters, including weather, season, time of day, people’s social and economic levels, healthcare, industrialization, ecological policies, etc.
The regions of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific deplore 4 million deaths per year, Africa 1 million, Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean 500,000, and the Americas 300,000.
What solutions do we have to limit this impact?
Globally, various local, regional, and national actors fight against air pollution [WHO report May 2018] in the areas of:
- Industry: green technologies and better urban and agricultural waste management.
- Energy: clean and affordable access for heating, lighting, and cooking.
- Transport: electric transport, cycle paths, public transport.
- Town planning: more energy-efficient buildings and green spaces.
- Electricity production: low-emission fuels and generalizing renewable energies (solar, wind, hydroelectric); promoting the cogeneration of electricity and heat.
At the individual level, it may seem simple to keep your habits and ignore the current policies. This is a mistake because simple daily actions can improve the global situation. These actions include saving energy, primarily by reducing electricity consumption, and managing our waste. We must learn, share and promote this lifestyle. Here are the seven fundamental points reinforcing your daily commitment to health and the planet:
- Try walking or cycling for short journeys: 30 to 40% of car journeys take less than a kilometer! Plus, it’s good for your cardio …
- Consider public transportation or carpooling when possible. This strategy offers you some precious time with your thoughts: cogito ergo sum. Just don’t browse TikTok while riding the train like all the Gen Z-ers.
- Opt for ecological heating solutions, regularly servicing and maintaining your installations. Avoid overheating your home: 19°C is ideal; each extra degree increases consumption by 7%.
- Consider using new generation bulbs for your lighting. They consume a lot less and have a much longer lifespan. Edison would be proud of it.
- Unplug devices on standby because they consume energy. They are also responsible for 1% of CO2 emissions worldwide. 1% may seem unimportant, but each percent is crucial on the global scale.
- Get as close to zero waste as possible. The best waste is the one that is not produced! Straightforward solutions exist:
- Avoid unnecessary packaging and favor bulk sales.
- Compost whatever you can.
- Sort your waste.
- Limit your digital pollution. This point is perhaps the most important but also the most misunderstood. Digital technology is responsible for 4% of gas emissions – 1.5 times more than air transport.
Electricity consumption in the digital sector is just behind that of China and the USA. Sending emails, streaming Netflix – all this pollutes. Gigantic data centers are highly energy-intensive… Here are some simple solutions:
- Empty your mailbox, delete spam, and empty the recycle bin: archiving requires storage in a data center that runs and consumes energy for nothing.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters that do not interest you: those you get because you forgot to uncheck the box when creating an account on a random website.
- If possible, download content instead of streaming it; it uses less energy. 60% of the internet flow is streaming!!
- Delete your old mailboxes. Even if you do not use them, spam and newsletters accumulate, causing useless energy consumption.
- Sacrifice your irrepressible desire to change your smartphone when your device is barely two years old (and still works very well): 90% of the pollution caused by smartphones comes from their manufacturing stage!
- 4G (and now 5G) uses 25 times more power than wifi, so you can turn them off at home.
- Use energy-saving mode when working on your tablet or computer; this tactic helps reduce consumption.
Let’s go back to Sung, whom we left pensive and searching for answers. It seems our hero has experienced a paradigm shift following his palpitations and the meeting with the retired doctor, now realizing the real impact of pollution on his health. Whatever happens to Sung, the point here is to recall the close link between health and the environment. The One World, One Health concept is not just a catchy slogan; it is a fundamental reality that will prevail in the coming decades. It is up to all of us to do our best to preserve our planet and health! My contribution is to have written this simple and modest text,
AND YOU, WHAT ARE YOU DOING???
- 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air.
- 14 people die from air pollution every minute, more than half of which by cardiovascular diseases.
- Particulate matter consists of tiny molecules in suspension that cause different serious pathologies.
- Air pollution decreases life expectancy by an average of three years.
- Air pollution has a significant impact on life quality.
- Simple daily actions can improve the world situation.
- You can change things by changing your Lifestyle, primarily by reducing electricity consumption and managing waste.
- One World, One Health.
- An ant that makes an effort to move forward will always go further than a giant who does not move!
- There are no small gestures if millions of us are doing them.