A ray of black light?

The Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres has just published the results of a world-wide study that might, paradoxically, contain a kernel of good news about climate change.  Admittedly, it does require the acceptance that climate change is happening and that we can do something about it.

The research found that far more pollution is caused by what they call “black soot” than anyone had previously thought.  Black soot has a greenhouse effect two-thirds that of carbon dioxide, and is greater than methane.  Huge quantities of this soot enter the atmosphere every year.   Estimates are that 7.5m tonnes was released in 2000.

So how is that potentially good news under any circumstances?

Well, we might be able to reduce it more quickly than some of our other sources of polluting greenhouse gases.  Yes, the biggest source of soot emissions is the burning of forest and savannah grasslands. But diesel engines account for about 70% of emissions from Europe, North America and Latin America.  And in Asia and Africa, wood burning domestic fires make up 60% to 80% of soot emissions. Coal fires are also a significant source of soot in China, parts of Eastern Europe, and former Soviet bloc countries.

Would people be willing to switch their diesel cars and trucks for less polluting vehicles?  Yes, with a little encouragement, I think they would.  Would you, for instance?

And researchers are working on alternatives for heating and cooking with wood as the main fuel.  Would you be willing to make a donation to help make this possible?  Would you support scientists who have ideas about how to do this, and to put it into production?  Yes, I would.

If they believed that finding ways to burn clean coal would the people living in some of the most polluted cities in the world be willing to support that clean-up process?  Would governments?  There are huge health benefits also brought about by clean air.  I don’t think it’s a lost cause.

Is it an all-in-one magical solution to the climate change we humans are engaged in producing?  No.  It will not substitute for reducing our CO2 emissions.

But it could buy us some time – researchers estimate perhaps twenty more years during which other measures could also begin to take effect.





About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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