HOT TOPICS ▶ Climate Change     Undoing The New Deal     The Real Baltimore     Reality Asserts Itself     United Kingdom    

  October 26, 2017

Pollution Kills 9 Million People a Year

Pollution causes far more deaths than tobacco, infectious disease or war, and causes 4.6 trillion dollars of economic damage per year, according to a major new study published in the British medical journal The Lancet
Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

I support The Real News Network because it cured my vertigo from all the spinning by Fox and MSNBC. - David Pear
Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. Black was a central figure in exposing Congressional corruption during the Savings and Loan Crisis.


AARON MATÉ: It's the Real News. I'm Aaron Maté. Pollution kills at least nine million people per year around the world. This according to a major new study in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet. The study also highlights the deaths and damages resulting from air, water and soil pollution caused $4.6 trillion of economic damage per year. Most of these costs and deaths are located in developing countries, but many developing countries, such as the U.S., are also affected.

Pollution causes far more deaths than tobacco, infectious disease or war, say the study's authors. I am joined now by Bill Black, white collar criminologist and associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Welcome Bill. Striking figure there, pollution killing nine million people per year. Your takeaway from this major new study?

BILL BLACK: It's what we've been trying to emphasize for years that is blocked by typical, neoclassical economic nostrums. First, it not only kills that many people, the author said because of biases in the study that cause severe under-counting, they think the real number is millions more. So in context, the nine million number is one-sixth of all the deaths worldwide if they're correct that it's understated. It may be closer to one-fifth of all the deaths annually are due to this kind of pollution.

Second, it creates what we call a pathogenic environment. So for example, it helps produce infectious disease. Many of the things that kill you are not necessarily counted, even though pollution contributes to that. By the way, in criminology, when we use a criminogenic environment, that's a direct steal from this concept of a pathogenic environment that spreads disease.

As you said, it's not only in ... Typically, the deaths are heavily concentrated in poorer countries, but of course, they're heavily concentrated in the poorest sections of those poor countries. Other deaths, for example we've been exceptionally successful in many places, first things we do in developmental economics is say, "Clean up the water system and the sewage system," because it's the great vector that spreads, for example, infectious disease.

Anybody that's read the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, that's what the doctor tries to do is eliminate the waterborne illnesses and such. Why? Well, because those become epidemic and they can kill the rich as well as the poor, but most of these other kinds of deaths are so heavily concentrated among the poor that it often doesn't create the same political dynamic to fix the problem. This is why we emphasize that fraud and corruption maim and kill. They aren't just money even when the money is over $4 trillion.

Let me emphasize that as well. It isn't just the nine to eleven million people that it kills, it's all the people that it makes sick and maims along the way, dramatically reducing their quality of life. But coming back to the money. The money is immensely important because in economic theory, it's the firms that produce that pollution that are supposed to bear that cost. Instead, they're shunting it off to the weakest victim, and that is a direct enormous contribution to their profits, and help explain, of course, why so many large corporations have moved out of places like the Unites States to places where even if they have environmental rules and laws, they're simply not enforced effectively because of corruption.

Now, we have the Trump administration trying to bring this in spades to the United States through their war on science and their war on regulation. Just last week, we had the EPA forbidding three of its climate scientists from giving public talk, explaining the climate science. So we have an active cover-up, and it's going to maim and kill people but it's also going to distort our economy. Again, it's going to be aggressions dynamic, in which the worst firms that pollute the most, that kill and maim the most, get the biggest implicit economic advantage because they don't bear the expenses of the pollution. In economics jargon, that's called externalities, or more precisely negative externalities, but obviously that's sort of euphemistic when you're talking about people dying by the millions.

AARON MATÉ: Right. So in short, they gain the benefits from admitting this pollution, but they externalize the cost, so they outsource the cost of the pollution onto other people?

BILL BLACK: That's right, and they are helped by the anti-regulators of the world and the corrupt politicians of the world. While that happens most frequently in less developed nations, it's happening increasingly in the supposedly developed nations, and most assuredly in the United States of America right now.

AARON MATÉ: You're an expert on regulation. What are some of the key things that could be done to seriously tackle the problem of pollution?

BILL BLACK: Well, we can actually measure most of these forms of pollution. The first thing is getting the data, and when you get the data ... In many cases we can collect the data by satellite so we don't actually have to go into the country. It doesn't mean that the data will be perfect, but it's often good enough to know that there is massive non-enforcement. At that point, you have to have international carrots and sticks to actually enforce the laws. Otherwise, you create a situation where whichever country maintains the weakest laws and regulation against pollution, the nation that's most willing to maim and kill its people, gets this economic surge.

You can imagine, if you can save over $4.5 trillion as business firms collectively by killing people through pollution, imagine the competitive advantage you have against honest companies that are unwilling to do that. That will create aggressions dynamic in which cheaters prosper, and over time you'll see more and more cheaters and fewer and fewer honest firms, and you'll see more and more businesses locating in the absolute worst nations in the world. Then, you'll see this temptation in other nations to say, "Oh, we have to gut our environmental laws and rules because otherwise we can't compete internationally."

AARON MATÉ: A great example of how the so-called free market doesn't quite incentivize good behavior, good behavior for the planet.

BILL BLACK: In aggressions dynamic, the market incentivizes absolutely the worst behavior, rewards the worst behavior, and drives the honest firms out of business. That's why honest CEOs are big supporters of effective regulation in areas like pollution, on opioids, on banking and such. When you see corporate leaders leading the charge against regulation, you know that that only makes sense if they're running dishonest firms.

AARON MATÉ: We'll leave it there. Bill Black, white-collar criminologist, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Thank you.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.


Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at

latest stories

Trump Boasts of Killer Arms Sales in Meeting with Saudi Dictator, Using Cartoonish Charts
15 Years of Mass Destruction in Iraq
Mercer's Cambridge Analytica 'Utterly Sleazy'
Meet The Man Behind Cambridge Analytica, Who Made Trump President
Will Congress Affirm its Constitutional Power to Stop the War in Yemen?
In Afrin the Turks are Looting and Pillaging with Gunfire
Protester Arrested At State House: Gov. Hogan Would Not Drink Water Contaminated by Fracking
'Samantha Em-Powers Genocide in Yemen': Students Protest US Role in Saudi War
After a Shooting at His School, a Maryland Teacher Speaks Out
European Left Divided Over Brexit
Marilyn Mosby: From Freddie Gray to GTTF
Trump and the Rise of the European Right, with Reps of UK Labour Party, De Linke, Podemos, and Syriza
Petroleum Executives Visit Trump, Increasing Offshore Oil Drilling
EPA Sued for Removing Independent Scientists from its Advisory Board
Inequality in America: A National Town Hall
Laura Flanders Show: Women's History Makes The Future
Corbyn Allies in Labour Attacked For Supporting Palestinian Struggle
Paul Jay: Threats facing Humanity, Russiagate & the Role of Independent Media
Kochs and ALEC Behind Criminalization of Dissent Bills in Five States
West's Anti-Russian Fervor Will Help Putin Win Election On Sunday
Stephen Hawking: Fighter for Progressive Politics
Corbyn Smeared as 'Russian Stooge' for Requesting Evidence on Poisoned Spy
Chief in Charge of Internal Affairs To Retire from Baltimore Police
Corbyn Calls for Evidence in Escalating Poison Row
Sanders Resolution Against War in Yemen Challenged by Mattis
Senate Expands 'Lobbyist Bill' to Deregulate Real Estate
Expressions of Afro-Asian Solidarity During the Cold War
Economic Benefits of Tax Cuts Should Have Arrived - Where Are They?
Trump's Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Is Another World Possible? - Leo Panitch on RAI (4/4),, The Real News Network, Real News Network, The Real News, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of Independent World Television inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and The Real News Network.

All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network. Click here for more

Problems with this site? Please let us know

Web Design, Web Development and Managed Hosting