What is Soot's Role in Climate Change?

The United States and other Arctic nations have established an international task force to study black carbon, a dangerous pollutant that kills millions worldwide and accelerates global warming, particularly in the Arctic.

Earthjustice, which is campaigning to curb black carbon–also known as soot–welcomed the agreement but said there is an urgent need for more immediate action.

"We have the technologies to reduce black carbon today," said Erika Rosenthal, an Earthjustice attorney. "Quick action on black carbon will slow Arctic melting and buy valuable time to address the larger problem of carbon dioxide emissions. "

Black carbon consists of microscopic airborne particles of soot that come from diesel engines and industrial smokestacks in the developed world and residential cooking and heating stoves in the developing world. Breathing black carbon causes serious respiratory illness responsible for 1.6 million deaths a year, and when it falls on ice or snow in the Arctic, it causes it to melt faster. Since black carbon stays in the atmosphere only a short time, fast action to control it will buy time for addressing the larger issue of carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global warming, according to an Earthjustice statement.

Earthjustice is urging the United States and the European Union to tighten controls on domestic sources and increase aid to developing nations to help them transition to cleaner fuels and stoves.

Last week, U.S.senators who are usually far apart on environmental issues agreed that the EPA should look at ways to control black carbon. Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican known as the Senate’s chief global warming skeptic, introduced a bill requiring the EPA to study black carbon pollution and within a year come up with solutions for reducing emissions.

At the Norway conference, former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore called on the world to reduce black carbon emissions by burning less diesel and wood: "The principal [climate change] problem is carbon dioxide, but a new understanding is emerging of soot. Black carbon is settling in the Himalayas. The air pollution levels in the upper Himalayas are now similar to those in Los Angeles."

Rosenthal said the U.S. and the E.U. must show global leadership for an action plan that immediately reduces black carbon from diesel engines, agricultural burning and marine vessels.

"The Obama administration has made a good start at home by increasing funding to clean up dirty diesel engines," she said, "but much more must be done–and quickly. The U.S. must increase transportation efficiency through retrofits and turnover of pre-1994 trucks; include the Alaskan Arctic in the U.S. Emissions Control Area to reduce global warming pollution from marine vessels; transition to using shore power for ships at berth; and develop special black carbon mitigation initiatives for the American Arctic."

A Differing Viewpoint

The mud-stove, commonly used in villages throughout the developing world, is projected as a ready alternative to CO2 handling in Green House Gases (GHG) management; a quick and cheap redressal to glacier-meltdown and of global warming. But soot clears out of the atmosphere in a matter of weeks whereas CO2 hangs about for a long time. So, by leaving CO2 in the atmosphere and removing the soot, what kind of time are we really buying? That’s the question asked by Vandana Prakash.

Is it fair to ask some small village that makes but a tiny contribution to GHG emissions to alter its lifestyle fundamentally, so that major polluters can continue their ways unchanged?

Read the full commentary at the link below.

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