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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Greater Than the Sum

Published February 25, 2016 10:46 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras


There’s a saying that gets thrown around, often in the context of sports, that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Seemingly oxymoronic, the point is typically made when trying to explain how a team of unextraordinary players somehow topples a juggernaut. And far from being a rare occurrence, it’s actually more uncommon — in any major sport — to make it through an entire season without one of these scenarios taking place.


As believable as the trope can become when watching it unfold on a television screen in the NBA Playoffs or something, the fact of the matter is that the frequency of its happening in professional sports does not usually enhance our own ability to believe in these sort of miraculous, collective efforts in other areas of our lives.


Just look at any marketing campaign. When was the last time one was able to successfully sell you on the concept of methodical, incremental progress? There’s a reason why it’s difficult to save money, but so easy to essentially toss away $20 hoping to win the Powerball. And as far as broad movements are concerned, it’s tricky even in the age of social media to convince millions of people that their all contributing a small amount to a cause will lead to massive, tangible results — a whole greater than the sum of its parts, in other words.  


Which is why, taking a look at certain news releases that project out into the future, you need to take their lofty expectations with a grain of salt. That being said, the report from Duke University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies that reductions in carbon emissions on the part of the United States could save 295,000 lives by 2030 is encouraging and eyebrow raising.

SEE ALSO: Inhalation Injuries From Sunscreen? 

"Many people view climate change as a future problem, but our analysis shows that reducing emissions that cause warming — many of which also contribute to air pollution — could benefit public health here and now," said Drew T. Shindell, from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.


The researchers were quick to add, however, that achieving any benefits in terms of lives and dollars saved “ … would require both larger and broader emissions reductions than those in current legislation or regulations.”



By 2030, according to Tech Insider’s reporting, “ … an estimated 175,000 premature deaths could be prevented while clean transportation can also prevent about 120,000 premature deaths, annually thereafter.


The article went on to discuss what respiratory therapists have long known: carbon and fuel emissions are as much an issue for the climate as they are for the health of our population. Air pollution in particular has been conclusively linked to asthma and COPD, among other respiratory diseases. So while it may not seem like much, all of the work we can do to personally reduce our individual carbon footprints really can have a huge impact on the lives of those around us, as well as the planet itself.


Or, to put it simpler, the whole of our efforts can be quite a bit greater than the sum of their parts.


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