Opinion: Sacrificing people at the altar of profit | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 20.10.2017
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Opinion: Sacrificing people at the altar of profit

Pollution is deadly — and bad for the economy. So why does the environment continue to be abused and neglected?

Commenting on environmental topics, I am beginning to feel like a broken record.

"It's terrible. Something needs to be done!"

And now the news that pollution causes more fatalities than war. What can I say? "It's terrible. Something needs to be done!"

It can seem that the bad news about the environment keeps getting worse. But as an editor who looks at these topics every day, I can say: This new headline doesn't surprise me — it's not really even new.

About a year ago, DW reported on how environmental degradation — including air pollution, excessive use of chemicals, and climate change — contributes to about a quarter of all deaths worldwide.

Sonya Angelica Diehn (Privat)

Sonya Angelica Diehn is DW's Environment Team Leader

And although there are, in fact, plenty of growing and seemingly insurmountable environmental problems, there are also some bright spots — like the recent finding that climate action by businesses, cities and states in the United States add up to nearly half of the emissions reductions necessary for the nation to reach Obama-era climate goals (you know, hopeful goals from the good ol' days).

So, it's all relative.

But still, perhaps the bigger question in light of such deadly pollution is: If things are so bad, why isn't there a broader effort to improve the situation?

The golden god of profit

Not that there is a simple answer to that.

I was reading a feature story the other day about how Trump voters in Texas are reacting in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey — a mega-hurricane fueled by climate change.

In this bastion of the petroleum industry, "some have described the chemical stink in the air as 'the smell of money' — it means paychecks, paid mortgages and meals," wrote the Associated Press authors.

In the end, it's very much about money.

Meaning: livelihoods and income. But not only that.

If I were to put the root cause of most environmental problems into one word, it would be: greed.

So many victims have been — and continue to be — sacrificed at the altar of profit.

Watch video 04:42

The PR of the fossil-fuel lobby

If I were to point my finger at one thing, it would be industry: The fossil fuel industry, the automobile industry, the chemical industry, the manufacturing industry.

In countries like India and China, where according to the new study nearly half of pollution deaths occur, such industry has been given free rein. In too many nations around the world, the government continues to cave in to the golden god.

Which is not to say that all industry is bad — there are plenty of good practices and efforts by companies to "do the right thing" for the planet.

There are interesting trends toward sustainability in business, including indications that businesses are beginning to grasp the true costs of environmentally destructive practices. And the government, particularly in industrialized countries, sometimes tries to do right by its people and the environment.

Unfortunately, those are still the exceptions.

And it's not enough.

Governments need to do their share to protect their populations. Isn't that their job?

And again, I'm feeling like a broken record.

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