September 02, 2011
Soot Seen As 2nd Biggest Human-Caused Atmospheric Warmer

At least in terms of deltas from the pre-industrial era soot pollution is now seen as having a bigger warming effect than methane.

DENVER, Aug. 31, 2011 A new study of dust-like particles of soot in the air now emerging as the second most important but previously overlooked factor in global warming provides fresh evidence that reducing soot emissions from diesel engines and other sources could slow melting of sea ice in the Arctic faster and more economically than any other quick fix, a scientist reported here today.

In a presentation at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Mark Z. Jacobson, Ph.D., cited concerns that continued melting of sea ice above the Arctic Circle will be a tipping point for the Earth's climate, a point of no return. That's because the ice, which reflects sunlight and heat back into space, would give way to darker water that absorbs heat and exacerbates warming. And there is no known way to make the sea refreeze in the short term.

Soot landing on ice lowers its albedo. In other words, soot, being dark, absorbs light that ice would otherwise reflect. Making ice darker causes more sunlight to be absorbed, heating and melting the ice.

What is good about this result: Soot is bad for our health. We should want to cut its emissions anyway. The global warming debate isn't even something you need to care about to want to cut soot pollution from diesel trucks, coal-burning electric generator plants, and other sources.

Jacobson's calculations indicate that controlling soot could reduce warming above parts of the Arctic Circle by almost 3 degrees Fahrenheit within 15 years. That would virtually erase all of the warming that has occurred in the Arctic during the last 100 years.

"No other measure could have such an immediate effect," said Jacobson, who is with Stanford University. "Soot emissions are second only to carbon dioxide (CO2) in promoting global warming, but its effects have been underestimated in previous climate models. Consequently, soot's effect on climate change has not been adequately addressed in national and international global warming legislation. Soot emissions account for about 17 percent of global warming, more than greenhouse gases like methane. Soot's contribution, however, could be reduced by 90 percent in 5-10 years with aggressive national and international policies."

Keeping the Arctic (and Antarctic) cold is more important than keeping temperatures down in lower latitudes. Keep the ice as ice and we can keep our coastlines from submerging.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 September 02 10:37 AM  Climate Pollution


Comments
Virgil said at September 2, 2011 11:07 AM:

What about water vapor?

Bruce said at September 2, 2011 2:10 PM:

Virgil ... darned good question. I think of it as Climate Science Alzheimers ... always forgetting about water vapor.

Diesel cars were promoted a way of meeting Kyoto targets in Europe.
Diesel sales of cars in Europe went from 23% in 1994 to over 50%.
Diesels cars produce way more soot than gasoline cars.

Environmentalism (and Al Gore) actually caused the global warming that took place.


http://arbis.arb.ca.gov/research/apr/past/02-310a.pdf

Phillep Harding said at September 2, 2011 2:19 PM:

Just exactly how did the polar ice cap reform after the Halocene Optimum when there were beavers building dams on the north coast of Ellesmere Island?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellesmere_Island

The south end of Ellesmere is north of the tree line today.

LarryD said at September 2, 2011 2:21 PM:

FYI, the seas are no longer rising.

cf. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-262

Global sea level dropped 6mm (.6 cm) in 2010, that sets us back about two years, its a bigger fluctuation than has been seen since they started keeping track with satellites.

Soot is already highly regulated in the US, not much room for improvement here.

PacRim Jim said at September 2, 2011 3:54 PM:

I can see where this is heading: Darker-skinned people lower earth's albedo, thereby warming the globe.
Racists!

Randall Parker said at September 2, 2011 3:54 PM:

Virgil,

My first sentence tried to draw a distinction, perhaps not clearly enough. The "At least in terms of deltas from the pre-industrial era" is meant to emphasize the human-caused change in warming aerosols and gases. The second biggest human-caused change in the atmosphere in terms of warming effect is from soot. Not the second biggest warmer total.

LarryD,

Cheap low-soot stoves for the poor countries is probably the biggest bang for the buck. But we still have plenty of old diesels running around.

lance said at September 2, 2011 4:57 PM:

CERN say's it's the big orange orb in the sky

Hong said at September 2, 2011 9:51 PM:

Exactly Lance, but don't tell that to the alarmists.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/08/25/cern_cloud_cosmic_ray_first_results/

SChaser said at September 2, 2011 10:15 PM:

There's nothing new about this. It's been clear for a while that the "alarming" melting of polar ice is due to soot from Chinese coal plants.

Good luck getting the Chinese to cut back on soot emissions.

spindizzy said at September 3, 2011 11:05 AM:

> Good luck getting the Chinese to cut back on soot emissions.

The Chinese are already investing quite heavily in nuclear power. What else is it that you would like to see them doing?

Bruce said at September 3, 2011 12:41 PM:

China doubled coal consumption over the last 7 years ...

http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2011/STAGING/local_assets/pdf/coal_section_2011.pdf

And consumption went up 10% in 2010.

To put it in perspective, only 3 countries burn more than China's INCREASE from 2009 to 2010. They burn 3.5x as much coal as the USA.

Nothing anyone does to combat claimed global warming will make a speck of difference if China keeps burning more and more coal.

spindizzy said at September 3, 2011 1:50 PM:

China's coal consumption is an inevitable result of its rapid development. I am guessing that you do not object to that in itself, and that you are glad a growing number of Chinese can at last enjoy a modern standard of living comparable to the West.

While the country is indeed a major polluter, I can't help but think the situation would be much worse if the government had not taken some hard decisions like, for example, its investment in nuclear power and of course its measures to stabilise the population.

By way of comparison, in the West we have no practical energy strategy and uncontrolled birth rates, and our standard of living is increasingly dependent on Chinese products bought with Chinese credit.

So I don't really understand why this is China's fault and what else the Chinese are supposed to be doing.


Bruce said at September 3, 2011 5:27 PM:

I'm not blaming China. They took advantage of stupid politicians and environmentalists to transfer 10s of millions of jobs from the stupid countries that signed Kyoto to their country and gave them a metaphorical finger by doing it with cheap coal electricity.

But don't think investing in nuclear in CHina has anything to with environmentalism. And don't necessarily believe their 5 year plans, they have had so many.

Jersey said at September 4, 2011 10:51 AM:

Poor little China, so misunderstood! China as king of global piracy, global malevolent hacking, global industrial espionage, global pollution, and global proliferation threat....etc etc. Yes, I can see why one would want to defend China against every possible slur.

Spindizzy: in the West we have no practical energy strategy and uncontrolled birth rates...

By "uncontrolled birth rates," I take it you mean birth rates have fallen across European populations, and western populations are on a downward spiral. Because that is the only way to make sense of your assertion, given the current demographic implosion in most western nations.

spindizzy said at September 4, 2011 12:31 PM:

@Bruce: I think environmentalism is a big issue in China in the sense that the Chinese do not like breathing dirty air any more than we do. However, it is a local rather than global view.

@Jersey: Actually, the population in many western countries is increasing rapidly because:

(a) The demographic transition model is turning out not to be the whole story. Birth rates among native populations are rebounding, just as Garrett Hardin predicted.
(b) People are living longer.
(c) Immigrants swell the population numbers and often bring high fertility rates.

The most worrying aspect of western populations in my view, and the reason why I chose the adjective "uncontrolled", is because of the issue of fertility inequality. The fact is that a large number of western people are below replacement level, and their deficit is being made up by the rapid growth in a benefits-dependent and explosively fertile underclass. This is not something you can see from just being handed a figure for total fertility.

While I do not have statistical evidence, China's lack of social security and (poorly implemented) one-child policy at least suggests to me a more even fertility spread across social class, with the exceptions more likely to occur in a desirable direction.

frank said at September 4, 2011 2:36 PM:

@spindizzy: "While the country is indeed a major polluter, I can't help but think the situation would be much worse if the government had not taken some hard decisions like, for example, its investment in nuclear power and of course its measures to stabilise the population."

China has stabilized its population by coercing women into sterilizations and forced abortions. That's a big part of the reason why they have one of the highest female suicide rates on the planet. Their one-child policy has also resulted in the moral and demographic catastrophe of millions of infant girls killed at childbirth so that the one slot can be filled later by a boy. Chinese boys from ages 1 to 19 now outnumber girls in that age group by literally tens of millions, a recipe for disaster when the boys discover later that they will never have a chance to get a wife.

Your comment about "uncontrolled birth rates" in the West seems to imply that you wish Chinese population methods enforced here, as well. I can't imagine why any decent human being would endorse such a policy.

PS My wife is Chinese, so I guess I have a dog in this fight. Too many Chinese girls never get the chance to grow up, fall in love, marry, and have children due to the inhuman population measures you like and wish us to emulate.

Phillep Harding said at September 4, 2011 5:48 PM:

When women are heavily suppressed as sub human, gathered into hareems, or _absent_due_to_other_factors_, the culture this situation is found in is generally violent (increasing pollution) or goes to war (nothing pollutes, or wastes resources, as thoroughly as war). I have no idea how else the Chinese could have reduced the population, perhaps any alternative possible would be worse. I simply don't know. But any course of action, including "no change", has some sort of drawback.

Bruce said at September 4, 2011 6:32 PM:

In 2008 Chinas'e electricity sources show 68GW out of 3547GW

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_generation#List_of_countries_with_Source_of_Electricity_2008

Coal is #1, followed by Hydro.

spindizzy said at September 5, 2011 10:34 AM:

@Frank

> China has stabilized its population by coercing women into sterilizations and forced abortions.

I'm not sure who you mean by "China". If you mean the CCP, then you are clearly wrong since female infanticide predates the emergence of the CCP in China and is also widespread in India and Bangladesh and many other countries. In fact, the CCP has made numerous propaganda efforts to raise the status of females in Chinese rural communities, although I personally think that wealth and not propaganda is the answer to that problem.

In any case, rural Chinese communities and minority groups receive special dispensation under the one-child policy so that is not a factor.

> That's a big part of the reason why they have one of the highest female suicide rates on the planet.

Well, you may simplistically choose to reach that conclusion but I suspect the situation is rather complex. In fact, all Asian countries have high suicide rates. To the extent that we have reliable figures for China, they do not seem disproportionate. In Japan, the suicide rate is also very high and male suicides heavily outnumber female. Should I therefore conclude that Japanese men are being oppressed and mistreated?

> I can't imagine why any decent human being would endorse such a policy.

Well, you have two choices. Either you can write off everyone who disagrees with you as being mentally defective, or you can make more of an effort to comprehend their point of view.

In the case of female infanticide, it might help to realise that the practitioners are often peoples who have adapted over centuries to living at the Malthusian limit - a limit which many communities are at last escaping from thanks to China's economic development.

> My wife is Chinese

In which case, the national gender imbalance can't have weighed very heavily on your conscience. :P

@P Harding

> When women are heavily suppressed as sub human...

Although brutal treatment of women in common in some poorer parts of China, the same can be said of India and Pakistan and even more so of Arabic and African states.

Aside from moral posturing, the question is whether the CCP's policies have improved or exacerbated the problem.

spindizzy said at September 5, 2011 10:49 AM:

@Bruce

Yes, China has been a pioneer in hydro power, most obviously with the Three Gorges Dam.

Phillep Harding said at September 5, 2011 12:59 PM:

You make my points, spindizzy.

Arn said at September 5, 2011 6:20 PM:

Wasn't part of the point of moving production offshore to China and other places to move pollution there as well:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summers_memo

bbartlog said at September 6, 2011 6:17 PM:

I had assumed for a while that particulates were the reason for dramatic warming up north (as well as stuff like Himalayan snowmelt / glaciers retreating) ... didn't make sense to me any other way. But I don't see how this stops the ice cap from reforming: what you have is a system where the soot on or near the surface causes accelerated melting, until either the melting finishes or a massive shock of new ice and snow buries it so deep that the absorption is no longer relevant. Then it starts over. There will always be some sort of northern ice cap in the winter, regardless of warming...

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