Air Pollution Destroys Human Intelligence

The little Colorado city where I live is only a handful of miles from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s a beautiful place and generally boasts all of the things Colorado is famous for: wide-open bluebird skies, magnificent sunsets, loads of fun outdoor activities, breathtaking views and especially at this time of year, quite comfortable temperatures. I feel very fortunate to live here.

About two weeks ago, though, smoke from wildfires in central Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia blanketed the Rockies in a thick, greasy smog. I woke up one morning and on my way to work noticed that I couldn’t see the mountains. The “campfire” smell was a lot more pervasive than usual in town, and we couldn’t see the mountains all day. Since I rarely deal with view- and lung-crippling air pollution, it was a really pretty terrible day.

I’m grateful that those kinds of days are few and far between here in Northern Colorado, but I was startled to find out some facts about air pollution:

-Over 95% of the world’s population breathes unsafe air

-Air pollution is responsible for approximately 7 million premature deaths each year, and

Air pollution causes huge reductions in intelligence

China Family Panel Studies looked at 20,000 families in China between 2010 and 2014. Data from these studies has been analyzed by scientists for various reasons. Most recently, scientists have been studying the impact of air quality on human intelligence. The results of these analyses are terrifying, and while the report focuses on the China study, its conclusions fit the rest of the world as well. Most helpfully, researchers were able to distinguish between gender and age group from the data available in the study. This allowed the researchers to come to more definitive conclusions than previous studies.

The research showed that air pollution is most harmful to intelligence for populations age 64 and older, which is alarming, as “We usually make the most critical financial decisions in old age.”

Rebecca Daniels, from the UK public health charity Medact, said: “This report’s findings are extremely worrying.” Insofar as gender divisions go, men are more likely to suffer from loss of intelligence than women, and the losses affect language skills more than they affect mathematical ability. They also found that pollution leads to greater degrees of mental illness in children, and that it worsens over time with exposure. On average, people who live in heavily polluted areas lose a year of education because of the air they breathe.

Which year of education would you want to lose?

The one where you learned how to contextualize so that reading is possible? The one where your dad taught you how to fix up your car? How about the one when you met the love of your life? Obviously these are all dramatic postulations, but I don’t want to lose any of my education. I worked hard for it, and I bet you did too.

What do you think of these studies? Does this worry you as much as it worries me? I’d love to read your opinions in the comments.

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