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Buying Ourselves Some Breathing Room
Volume 11, Number 34: 20 August 2008

In the Scripps Institution of Oceanography press release that accompanied the publication of the Ramanathan and Carmichael (2008) review of potential global and regional climate changes that could result from continued black carbon (BC) emissions -- which the two researchers describe as arising from (1) "cooking with biofuels such as wood, dung and crop residue," 20% of the total, (2) "fossil fuel combustion (diesel and coal)," 40% of the total, and (3) "open biomass burning (associated with deforestation and crop residue burning)," 40% of the total -- it is stated that "soot and other forms of black carbon could have as much as 60 percent of the current [our italics] global warming effect of carbon dioxide." In addition, the press release says that "black carbon particles only remain airborne for weeks at most compared to carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for more than a century." And on top of that, Ramanathan and Carmichael state that "over 400,000 annual fatalities among women and children are attributed to smoke inhalation during indoor cooking" in various parts of the world, most notably in Asia.

In light of these several observations -- plus the totally unsubstantiated but impassioned claim of climate alarmists such as Al Gore and James Hansen that we have only a few years left (perhaps but a single decade) to save the planet from the "climate crisis" they envision -- wouldn't it seem logical to begin with the much more tractable task of curbing black carbon emissions? For one thing, the effort would pay measurable dividends almost immediately, both in terms of human lives saved from no longer cooking indoors with biofuels (which is a guaranteed consequence) and from a more rapid reduction of rising temperatures (due to whatever may be causing them), for the unavoidably slow pace of the Gore-Hansen approach to the problem -- making people pay, one way or another, for their CO2 emissions -- no matter how rapidly or harshly it is attempted to be implemented, would not make any measurable impact on the planet's temperature for decades to come, if ever. And if the 60% equivalent of the radiative heating effect of current anthropogenic CO2 emissions is not a large enough target to pursue, one could add to it the additional 61% equivalent that current anthropogenic methane emissions have been calculated to produce (Shindell et al., 2005).

If the approach we suggest is taken, industry could continue to pursue all of the many technological goals the world's climate alarmists have prodded them to pursue at a more deliberate pace that could be better tolerated by the global economy; and we would not need to risk experiencing the worrisome results many of us foresee occurring if their policies are simply shoved down our throats by binding legislation. And, of course, we would have time to determine with greater certainty whether or not CO2 is really the climatic villain climate alarmists make it out to be; for there is a huge scientific consensus that thinks it is not. In fact, there are many that believe it is a blessing in disguise, as CO2 is the basic "food" of nearly all plants, which in turn comprise the food that is required by nearly all animals up and down the food chain, which is why we like to call it the elixir of life.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

References
Ramanathan, V. and Carmichael, G. 2008. Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon. Nature Geoscience 1: 221-227.

Shindell, D.T., Faluvegi, G., Bell, N. and Schmidt, G.A. 2005. An emissions-based view of climatic forcing by methane and tropospheric ozone. Geophysical Research Letters 32: 10.1029/2004GL021900.