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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Final lecture in Darwin series presented at the UFS
2010-02-23

At the lecture were, from the left: Prof. Terence McCarthy, Prof. Jo van As, Chairperson of the Darwin 200 Committee and Head of the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the UFS, Prof. Bruce Rubidge, Elsabe Brits, journalist at Die Burger and Esther van der Westhuizen, presenter on Groen.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs


The University of the Free State (UFS), in collaboration with the Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT) and The National Museum in Bloemfontein recently hosted the final lecture on the Charles Darwin lecture series entitled “The story of life and survival”.

The lecture was presented by Prof. Bruce Rubidge, the Director of the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research at Wits University and Prof. Terence McCarthy, a Professor of Mineral Geochemistry at Wits and Head of the Department of Geology. Proff. Rubidge and McCarthy are co-authors of the book The Story of Life on Earth.

Their lecture with the topic “Trends in evolution and their bearing on the future of humankind” dealt with the future of evolution. According to Prof. Rubidge, ninety-nine percent of the species that have ever lived are extinct. “We are living in a time of mass extinction. Fifty thousand species become extinct annually,” he said.

Prof. McCarthy discussed many factors that can result in mankind’s extinction today. The impact of climate change, big volcanic eruptions, a comet or asteroid hitting earth, tsunamis and the collapsing of sea islands are some of the factors Prof. McCarthy believes could cause great catastrophe’s on earth.

“We live on the brink of this all the time,” he said.

Prof. McCarthy also believes that we can avoid these catastrophes. By allowing only one child per family we can shrink the global population with 30% per generation. This is doable in a short time span,” he said.

Other ideas he had on saving mankind from getting extinct is to create extensive ecological reserves on land but especially in the ocean, to decentralise everything, to change to renewable energy, to recycle resources and to be vigilant in doing this.

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