Darkening Sky: Reducing Black Carbon Haze Could Reduce the Intensity of Climate Change

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Black carbon in the atmosphere affects climate change. Image courtesy of NASA

From scorching summers to monsoons off course, from crop failures to mass migration, climate change brings some frightening future pictures to mind. Climate change is a subject wrapped in controversy. It’s tempting to run away from the subject altogether, not only because it’s controversial, but also because fixes for climate change are not easy or immediate. Like a train, climate change takes a long, long time to turn around, and so these images seem inevitable and terribly frightening.

Controlling carbon dioxide emissions is a big, long-term push. While we’ll feel the heat (and the cold) from the carbon that generations have emitted, we’re not necessarily going to feel the benefits of reduced carbon emissions for a while.

But what if changing the temperature in the near term was possible? Could this help us pull our collective heads from the sand and work on improving the situation, so that the people of the near future would not see climate change that was as intense?

Reducing Black Carbon Could Reduce The Intensity of Climate Change

In a study published in the January 2012 issue of Science, Drew Shindell and his colleagues discovered that one of the keys to reducing our climate impact could lie in the haze that’s visible on the skyline on a hazy summer’s evening.  It’s called black carbon.

Black carbon forms from incomplete combustion. This soot absorbs heat in the atmosphere, warming the earth. When it falls on ice and snow, it reduces earth’s ability to reflect sunlight. While it’s a player in climate changes, black carbon is a brief player on the climate scene. While carbon dioxide sticks around for decades, black carbon comes onto and off of the scene in mere weeks. This is what makes it useful in our near term efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

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