What's the biggest killer of people in developing nations? The answer will surprise you.

If you had to guess the biggest killer of people in the developing world, what would you say?

A funeral pyre in India...

A funeral pyre in India...

HIV/AIDS?  Malaria?  Influenza?  Malnutrition? 

Nope.  Pollution.

According to a recent essay in Ensia magazine, in 2012, air, water, and other forms of pollutants killed some 8.4 million people in developing nations.  That's more people than died from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

And by these measures, mortality from Ebola is a mere drop in the bucket.

Pollution not only kills people directly.  It often worsens or increases the incidence of other diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, respiratory diseases, chest infections, and diarrhea. 

Scientists are increasingly warning people with health concerns -- such as obesity, diabetes, and respiratory problems -- to stay indoors during periods of rush-hour traffic, when air pollution is heaviest.

Globally, some 9 million people die from pollution annually, according to the World Health Organization.  Given that over nine-tenths of these deaths occur in developing nations, it is apparent that deadly pollution is increasingly a problem concentrated in the developing world.

As Southeast Asia continues to see heavy smoke palls from forest burning that send thousands of people to hospitals, and as plumes from forest fires stretch for thousands of kilometers across the Amazon, we have to remember that environmental destruction doesn't just kill nature.

It kills lots of people too.


When it comes to climate change, there are two USAs

Of all the world's industrial nations, the USA ranks lowest overall in terms of the percentage of citizens who think climate change is a serious problem.  But that simple statistic disguises a deeper reality: there actually are two Americas.

This one looks like a Democrat...

This one looks like a Democrat...

One USA might be called the Democratic America.  Among US Democrats, 65% think climate change is a major concern.  That's on par with Spain and a higher percentage than that in Germany, Canada, and the UK.

But the other USA--the Republican America--is far different.  Among US Republicans, just 25% think climate change is a serious worry.  That's well below the figure for China and only marginally better than Egypt and Pakistan.

So, Democrats behave more like those from other industrial nations, where climate change is perceived as a serious global problem.  Republicans, however, behave more like those from developing nations, where climate change is presumably seen as a lesser concern than economic development and day-to-day survival.

Keeping this distinction is mind is fairly important.  When it comes to attitudes and action on the environment, there are really two USAs.  The country certainly deserves censure at times, but we should focus our criticisms on the recalcitrant half.