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


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Climate Change Study Details

Reducing agricultural burning could reduce climate change. Image Credit: Darren Dean

The study tested hundreds of potential factors that could change the climate scenario in the upcoming decades.

Two winners emerged:

1. Reduce black carbon emissions, and the near term climate scenario looks much rosier.

2. Reduce them in tandem with methane emissions, and the positive impact is even stronger.

The two factors together could reduce near-term climate change, making the next century much easier to weather.

To get these benefits, what have the climate doctors ordered? The prescription is vast, but straightforward. The focus is on improving technologies and practices in methane and black carbon management. The study calls for fourteen practical solutions that include controlling methane emissions from municipal landfills, improving aeration methods for rice paddies, banning agricultural waste burning, eliminating high-emissions vehicles, and using cleaner-burning biomass stoves.

Securing the Global Food Supply

The good news is that reducing black carbon and methane emissions not only reduces climate change, it also improves air quality and helps secure the global food supply.

Rain and drought are two of the impacts of changing climate. In climate change scenarios, Southern Europe and the Sahel face increasing droughts, while the patterns of the Southeast Asian monsoons are changing. Reducing black carbon emissions could make these impacts less intense, reducing the shift in rainfall and the risk of drought. In models, reducing these emissions showed improvement in crop yields in China, India, the Middle East, South and Central Asia, Mexico, and the United States.

Could reducing haze reduce climate change? Image Credit: Yirsh

The Politics of Local Solutions

Will we soon see black carbon trading at the international level? In an interview with Decoded Science, Shindell pointed out that black carbon emissions controls would need to be quite different than the international focus on carbon dioxide. Since the local health benefits of reducing black carbon emissions are so large, Shindell says that, “a national or smaller scale where emissions controls are usually put into place for air quality” would be the ideal way to control black carbon.

Shaping Our Climate’s Future

In the era of fast-moving climate change, it’s easy to feel that we have very little ability to shape our ecological future. This study shows that we still have the ability to change our future, to improve human health, and to make our food supply much more secure. We can do this through a host of practical solutions. As always, the challenge will be to see beyond today and envision the positive impacts that these solutions could bring in the decades to come.


Shindell, Drew, et al. Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security. Science 335, 183 (2012). Accessed January 16, 2012.

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