A recent study by the US space agency NASA shows that cutting emissions of soot can have an immediate cooling effect – and prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths from air pollution at the same time.
Emission reductions have a virtually instantaneous effect, because soot rapidly falls out of the atmosphere, unlike carbon dioxide, which remains there for over a hundred years. And because soot is one of the worst killers of all pollutants, radical reductions save lives and so should command popular and political support.
The study – from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics – concludes that tackling the pollution provides “substantial benefits for air quality while simultaneously contributing to climate change mitigation” and “may present a unique opportunity to engage parties and nations not yet fully committed to climate change mitigation for its own sake.”
Soot contains up to 40 different cancer-causing chemicals and can also cause respiratory and heart diseases. It is estimated to cause two million deaths in the developing world each year – mainly among children – when emitted from wood-burning stoves in poorly ventilated houses.
Tackling these two health crises, the NASA study concludes, would also be the most effective short-term way of slowing climate change. Its research shows that the strongest leverage on reducing global warming would be achieved by reducing emissions from domestic fuel burning in developing countries, particularly in Asia, and by a reduction in transport emissions in North America, especially from diesel engines.
Source: Article by G. Lean, published 4 January 2009 in The Independent, UK.