marcel barang

Terrorism? Tobacco is worse

In Reading matters on 20/09/2009 at 3:21 pm


The New York Review of Books, to which I subscribe, usually reaches me when a new issue is already on sale in the States, but I don’t mind that. In my latest copy (Fall issue), Joel E. Cohen, under the title “Disaster Watch”, reviews Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years, by Vaclav Smil, and has this to say:

Globally, between 1970 and 2005, fatalities caused by terrorist attacks averaged below a thousand a year, not much greater than airline accidents and volcanic eruptions, but far fewer than deaths from floods and earthquakes, which were in turn far fewer than fatalities from car accidents and medical errors, which Smil estimates as causing several hundred thousand deaths each year. He does not mention that tobacco use kills five to six million people a year globally, more than twice as many as HIV/AIDS, three times as many as tuberculosis, which accounts for about two million deaths a year, and five or six times as many as malaria, which causes some one million deaths a year. Doesn’t smoking tobacco pose a far greater threat than al-Qaeda?

What about alcohol? Not a word here.

Later on, a few more sobering facts:

In Central Africa, for example, 55 percent of people are undernourished. In today’s world of 6.7 billion people, roughly one person in seven is chronically hungry. Two billion people or more suffer from micronutrient malnutrition. Nearly one child in three in developing countries is stunted, and those are the survivors. Yet the world currently grows enough food to feed all people an adequate diet. Meanwhile extraordinary resources are spent preparing and executing organized violence: world military expenditures in 2006 exceeded $1.2 trillion in current dollars. Today’s global catastrophe is several billion people’s forgone health, talent, and dignity: the costs in lost opportunities are incalculable.

Too bad that the article ends on a paean of sorts to “twentieth-century information technologies” that “can, in the twenty-first, increase global consciousness of those who are starving and victims of violence”, as there is much food for thought in it altogether.


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