Black Carbon Takes No. 2 Spot In Climate Change Agents

31 atmospheric scientists have written a new study on the major component of soot called 'black carbon', long identified with causing respiratory problems - and have shown how it is the 2nd most important agent of climate change after carbon dioxide.

January 18, 2013, 6:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


The study, "Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment" was published online Jan. 15 by The Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.  Elisabeth Rosenthal writes that the new research doubles the "black carbon heat-trapping power" (from the ) last major report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 2007."

The new calculation adds urgency to efforts to curb the production of black carbon, which is released primarily by diesel engines in the industrialized world and by primitive cook stoves and kerosene lamps in poorer nations. Natural phenomena like forest fires also produce it.

Carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, remains in the atmosphere for decades and is distributed nearly uniformly across the earth’s atmosphere. By contrast, black carbon generally only persists in the air for a week to 10 days, so its presence across the globe is far more variable.

The importance of black carbon as a significant global warming contributor is not new - it was identified as a major contributor by  V. Ramanathan of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego in a 2008 study - but he described his position as "very lonely".  Now he's got lots of company.

PRI's The World’s environment editor Peter Thomson also reported on the new study (audio, podcast, and text available) and points to the burning of coal in addition to diesel emissions and wood smoke - in fact, the radio report opens with a reference to the 'Airpocalypse' in Beijing. Identifying black carbon as such as a major contributor to climate change should boost efforts to fight it, Thomson explains.

(C)ompared to the challenges of cutting carbon dioxide and methane pollution, which we’re clearly having a very hard time dealing with, getting rid of most of the world’s sources of soot would be a fairly simple fix. One of the authors of this study called it a “no-brainer.” And it could reduce the rate of warming of the atmosphere at least a bit and buy us some time while we deal with those bigger challenges.

MARCO WERMAN, moderator: And of course there’d be a big public health benefit I would imagine.

THOMSON: Yeah, that’s the second thing, and another reason that study author called getting rid of it a “no-brainer.” It’s kind of an environmental two-fer.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not list black carbon as a greenhouse gas. It states on its Global Emissions page, "Black carbon (BC) is a solid particle or aerosol, not a gas, but it also contributes to warming of the atmosphere. Learn more about BC and climate change on our Causes of Climate Change page."

Thursday, January 17, 2013 in The New York Times

Kids

Opinion: Aging Population, Declining Fertility Requires Long-Term Investments

Faced with the dire consequences of a one-two punch of aging populations and declining birthrates, one writer has suggestions for how policy can help ensure a better future.

August 9, 2022 - Financial Times

Fracking

The Surprising Oil Tax in the Inflation Reduction Act

President Biden has made reducing gas prices paramount in his administration, so it was likely a surprise to hear a Republican senator last Sunday warn TV viewers that a revived and increased oil fee in the climate bill will increase their gas costs.

August 15, 2022 - Bloomberg News

People gather on a street with no cars during the L.E.A.F. Festival of Flowers in the Meatpacking District of New York City.

The Tide Has Turned Against Open Streets

Once a promising development for advocates pushing for a less car-centric future in cities, the open streets movement has ceded significant ground to cars since the height of the pandemic.

August 14, 2022 - The New York Times

110 Freeway

Opinion: Los Angeles Transportation Plan Will Increase Driving

L.A. Metro’s plan to add hundreds of miles of new traffic lanes is projected to increase carbon emissions by 10 million metric tons.

August 18 - Los Angeles Times

Flooding at the Whitehall Street station, New York

How Extreme Weather Threatens Transit Systems

As weather events become more intense and unpredictable, transit agencies must take steps to protect their aging infrastructure from flooding, storms, and extreme heat.

August 18 - Next City

Close-up of car tailpipe emitting smoke

Federal Rule Would Require Regional Emissions Reduction Targets

A rule shelved during the Trump administration would require states and metropolitan areas to set targets for reducing tailpipe emissions, but advocates say it doesn’t go far enough to mandate results.

August 18 - Governing

Assistant or Associate Professor of Urban Design

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Professor of Urban Planning

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Professor of Urban Design and/or Urban Planning

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

New Cityscape Explores Methods of Measuring Blight

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

2022 National Cohousing Conference

Cohousing Association of the US

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.