Last week, there was a very encouraging presentation made at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson presented an abstract showing how soot affects climate. Soot is what you get when you burn organic carbon as a fuel, but don’t burn it completely. Think the ash and other organic compounds released from a campfire.
Jacobson added improvements to a climate model to better quantify the effects of soot on clouds. After running these models, he found that decreasing soot in the atmosphere could significantly counteract the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Even better, soot doesn’t stick around in the atmosphere as long as greenhouse gases do. This means that if we stopped emitting industrial carbon dioxide and soot tomorrow, the soot would be gone first. This means that the effects of soot emission reductions will be seen on shorter timescales than carbon dioxide emissions.
If this work holds up*, it is nothing short of fantastic news. Soot emissions should be curbed anyways. Unlike CO2 they are a pollutant in a more direct sense, as they have been linked to health problems. What’s more, soot is dark and it’s warming effects will be compounded at the poles, where it can fall on otherwise bright ice, darkening it. That darkening means more absorption of incoming solar radiation (think solar panels or a black shirt on a hot day)… and more absorption means more melting of the ice, one of the big dangers with climate change.
So to sum things up, by cutting soot emissions we’ll address climate change on a short timescale, in the places that matter most… all while cleaning the air of pollutants that directly lead to human health problems. Sounds good to me.
* – Remember, this was just a presentation at a conference. While this research has a lot of potential, we should wait for the models to go through the peer review process before counting on the results of it.