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.


Should conservationists resort to bribery?

Imagine having several million dollars to spend on nature conservation--and not being able to get a thing accomplished.

Time for the bribery quickstep?

Time for the bribery quickstep?

That's the position the leader of a prominent European nature organization finds himself in.  He and the organizations he represents are trying to save endangered forests in Sumatra, Indonesia, but they've been at a standstill for years. 

Why?  Because the only real way to get things done there is to pay off the right people.

"Corruption is a nightmare," he said.  "We are ready to buy forests for conservation and put millions into it, but we are not really making any progress because we don't pay under the table."

He continues: "It is unbelievable how difficult it is to save the forests for the local people, the nation and the global community by honest (and generous) payments for ecosystem restoration.  We are being overrun by bad governance and individuals giving away common goods for private profits."

This is a real and serious dilemma for those working to advance nature conservation in certain parts of the world

As conservationists, we hope we're above such things... but is it naive to pretend bribery isn't part and parcel of the way business is done in some places

One thing is certain: Many resource-exploiting corporations working in Sumatra and elsewhere in the developing world use bribes to get what they want

It's a debate worth having.  If the stakes are high and there's no apparent alternative, should conservationists consider crossing some palms to advance a just cause?  


Protect wilderness from rapacious road expansion

The world's last surviving wildernesses are under assault--from unbridled road expansion.  That's the key message of a press release today, distributed on the International Day of Forests (March 21).

Roads to ruin... forest clearing in the Amazon

Roads to ruin... forest clearing in the Amazon

Current estimates suggest that, by 2050, we'll have another 25 million kilometers of paved roads--enough to encircle the Earth more than 600 times.  Around nine-tenths of those roads will be in developing nations, which sustain many of the planet's most biologically important ecosystems.

In wilderness areas, new roads often open a Pandora's Box of environmental problems--such as illegal deforestation, colonization, fires, hunting, and mining.  In the Amazon, for instance, over 95% of all deforestation occurs within 50 kilometers of roads.

The press release was led by European MP Kriton Arsenis, a respected wilderness advocate who runs the RoadFree initiative, and featured comments from ALERT Director, Bill Laurance.

"When it comes to roads in wilderness, the key is to stop the first cut," said Laurance.  "Keeping roads out is the only truly effective way to ensure wilderness will survive."