Although shark attacks, plane crashes, and terrorist attacks might be the stuff of our collective nightmares, there's one thing that kills way more people both worldwide and in the U.S. than any of those things combined. And there's no way to hide from it.
According to a new study from scientists in Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and at Harvard University, air pollution is killing way more people than we previously thought -- over 3 million people around the world die prematurely from it every single year. And the U.S. ranks 7th for the highest numbers of air pollution deaths -- we had 54,905 deaths from soot and smog in 2010.
By comparison, an average of just six people die worldwide from shark attacks every year -- and generally only one of those takes place in the U.S.
See? They're not so bad.
The number of deaths caused by plane crashes is slightly bigger: Last year (2014) was one of the worst years for plane crashes in the last decade. An estimated 1,328 people died in plane crashes worldwide -- which is still a teeny, tiny number compared to the 3 million deaths caused by air pollution.
The number of deaths from terrorist attacks worldwide was 17,891 people in 2013. The total number of Americans who died in the 9/11 attacks was 2,752. The lead author of the air pollution study also told NBC News that air pollution kills more people worldwide than malaria and HIV combined.
Even more disturbing? The air pollution study estimates that if these trends continue, the yearly death toll will double to about 6.6 million by the year 2050. So aside from putting giant air filters everywhere (which might not be a bad idea), what can we do about it?
According to the study, most of the deaths in the U.S. were caused by air pollution from power plants and agriculture. This means that we can do our part to cut back on air pollution by being as green as possible.
A great way to start is conserving power by unplugging electronics when you're not using them, or keeping them on a power strip with switches (did you know if you keep them plugged in they still drain power?). Turning off lights when you leave a room, recycling as much as possible, buying green appliances, and using public transportation whenever possible are also great ideas.
Another way to flex your power is by eating green -- eating more plant-based foods (fruit, veggies, beans, grains and wheat) and fewer animal-based foods (meat, cheese and dairy products) not only requires less power and less agricultural energy; it also conserves more water and shrinks your overall carbon footprint. So instead of worrying about the scary but statistically-unlikely stuff you can't control (like shark attacks and plane crashes), take action! Go forth and be green. And maybe just keep an eye out for those six mean sharks, too. For good measure.