Black Carbon an Easy Target for Climate Change


John Lash | Policy Innovations

Could the silver bullet for climate change be black? The particulate matter called black carbon—a type of soot from burning fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass—is now estimated to be the second most potent greenhouse warming agent after carbon dioxide. As a result, reduction of black carbon has gained momentum as one of the fastest means to significantly impact global warming.

This creates a unique opportunity to capitalize on the intersection between climate change and clean air initiatives. For years, reducing emissions from diesel engines has been one of the most important air quality challenges. Diesel emissions aggravate asthma, cause cancer and premature death, and are especially harmful to people who are vulnerable to respiratory illness, such as children and the elderly. The EPA estimates that its diesel emission programs will provide more than $150 billion in health benefits and prevent 20,000 premature deaths annually when fully implemented.

Diesel particulate matter emissions account for 30 percent of black carbon globally and 50 percent in the United States. Thus air quality programs that reduce diesel particulate matter should also be recognized as reducing climate change. Mining this intersection would double the bang for our buck, combining the health and financial benefits of clean air programs with the financial benefits of carbon abatement in a single cost.

New Awareness of Black Carbon’s Role

Previous estimates of black carbon’s warming potential have been deemed too low for a number of reasons. First, the warming effect of black carbon (which absorbs light) was assumed to be essentially offset by the cooling effect of organic and sulfate aerosols (which reflect light). But it turns out that the warming effect of black carbon multiplies by a factor of two when mixed with these other particles.

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Salamanders “Completely Gone” Due to Global Warming?

Christine Dell’Amore | National Geographic News

Silent and secretive creatures, salamanders are just as quietly falling off the map in tropical forests throughout Central America, a new study says.

Two common species surveyed in the 1970s in cloud forests of southern Mexico and Guatemala are extinct, and several others have plummeted in number, researchers say.

The tiny amphibians seem to be on the same downward spiral as their frog cousins, which have been mysteriously declining for years.

Scientists have identified chytrid, a fast-killing fungus that may spread in waves, as responsible for wiping out frogs around the world. Others have said that climate change is shifting temperatures and humidity, factors intricately tied to amphibian survival.

But among the Central American salamanders, “we have no evidence that either chytrid or climate change is responsible for the declines,” said study author David Wake, an biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Completely Gone”

In the 1970s, Wake spent several years researching lungless salamanders in the San Marcos region of western Guatemala, one of the most diverse and well-studied salamander communities in the American tropics.

Between 2005 and 2007, he and colleagues returned to that region and previous study sites in Mexico to survey salamanders and compare their results to the historical data.

Their data-collecting strategy remained the same: Spot as many salamanders as possible in a standard amount of time.

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Australia to act on natural disasters


Phil Mercer | The National

The savage effects of climate change on health are to be investigated by a new multimillion-dollar study funded by the Australian government as researchers investigate the threats posed by more frequent heat waves, cyclones, fires and droughts.

Scientists are warning that climatic shifts are likely to increase the incidence of infectious diseases, post-traumatic stress and heart ailments.

They also predict that climate change could have a near-apocalyptic effect on parts of Australia, which are expected to suffer more devastating bushfires, flooding and tropical storms.

“They injure, they maim and they kill people, but they also cause a lot of environmental and social disruption,” said Tony McMichael, a professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, which is involved in the study, for which the government paid AU$10 million (Dh24.8m).

“Post-traumatic stress disorders invariably follow and survivor guilt, those that say ‘well, I was the lucky one, but I was not seriously injured or killed’. There’s quite a widespread spectrum of consequences of these extreme weather events.”

Fires in the state of Victoria over the weekend have killed at least 96 people in the worst wildfire disasters in Australian history.

At the end of last month, Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city and capital of Victoria, roasted in its hottest period in more than a century as the southern metropolis endured several consecutive days of temperatures of more than 40°C, which gave residents a frightening insight into how the future could feel as the Earth warms.

In the tiny settlement of Kyancutta in South Australia the mercury peaked at 48.2°C.

Across the south-east of the continent the scorching conditions resulted in dozens of sudden deaths, mainly of older residents, who had heart attacks and strokes that have been blamed on the unbearable heat.

“It was a killer situation,” said Neville Nicholls, a climate scientist at Melbourne’s Monash University. “The heatwave has to have been catastrophic for the elderly in Melbourne.

“We know there are two vulnerable groups with heat waves; one is the very young, and people over about 65 years of age. If the average daily temperature is 30 degrees or above in Melbourne then we get a jump of about 20 per cent in deaths in the over-65 age group. It just gets worse and worse as the temperatures get higher. Around the world these hot extremes are getting hotter and more frequent and we can attribute this pretty easily to the enhanced greenhouse effect. It has a really simple effect – more heat waves mean more deaths.”

Melbourne’s red-hot spell caused chaos as railway lines buckled in the intense heat and the power network crumpled under unprecedented demand that left 500,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

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Ohio: Cleveland-area nighttime temperatures indicate warming trend


 Michael Scott | Plain Dealer

Is global warming sneaking into Ohio under cover of darkness?

That’s what atmospheric scientists like Jeffrey Rogers, professor and researcher at the Ohio State University, want to know — because nights have been slowly getting warmer here for more than a half-century.

“Nighttime temperatures are coming up, and no one has really been paying attention to them,” Rogers said by telephone from his Columbus office, where he has also served in the unpaid position of state climatologist since 1986.

“Many people think that they will notice a warmer climate by noticing hotter summers or warmer winters,” Rogers said. “Instead, it is nighttime temperatures that could be a first indicator.”

Rogers, a 30-year teaching veteran at OSU, has produced a study that showed a clear trend over at least the last 60 years of Columbus weather records: Nighttime lows have been slowly, but certainly, gaining on daytime temperature high temperature averages.

Atmospheric scientists call that the Diurnal Temperature Range or DTR– the difference between the daytime high and nighttime low. It’s one of the markers that seem to indicate a warming climate, according to some scientists.

In any case, increasing nighttime lows are a virtually uncontested fact among meteorologists, climatologists and other scientists. What remains debatable is why it has been happening.

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Washington: Kirkland Community Invited to Conversation about Climate Protection

Climate change, global warming, and the greenhouse effect may or may not be on the minds of all Kirkland citizens, but the City is hoping to raise awareness and inspire action about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Kirkland. Through a public participation event, participants will be presented with the City’s climate protection efforts and asked to prioritize what actions they are willing to take to reduce their carbon footprint (a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a person). 

Using automatic voting devices similar to those on television game shows, participants will answer questions associated with ways to protect the climate through commuting, energy efficiency, waste reduction and more.  The Climate Protection Community Conversation will be held on Tuesday, February 24, 6 to 8:30 p.m., Kirkland City Hall, Council Chambers, 123 5th Avenue.  Due to a limited number of voting devices, reservations are being requested.  Please contact Erin Leonhart, Intergovernmental Relations Manager at 425-587-3009 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  to register.  For information about Kirkland’s sustainability (“green”) initiatives, visit

EPA sets fuel efficiency hearing

David Shepardson | Detroit News

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to move quickly to consider a request by California and 13 states to impose a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2016 — a measure that would require automakers to dramatically boost the efficiency of light trucks and passenger cars.

The EPA has set a public hearing on the issue on March 5 and will take public comments through April 6.

The hearing comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s decision last month to order the EPA to reconsider the Bush Administration’s decision to deny California and the other states a waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement new standards.

In a Friday notice about the public hearing, the EPA repudiated its prior denial saying it “significantly departed from EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s waiver provisions and from the agency’s history.”

California had been granted more than 50 waivers over the past 30 years and never received a complete denial. California’s waiver would require automakers to boost fuel economy to a fleetwide 35.7 miles per gallon by 2016 and 42.5 mpg by 2020.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the agency would conduct an “impartial review” of California’s request.`

“It is imperative that we get this decision right, and base it on the best available science and a thorough understanding of the law,” Jackson said.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said that if the states get EPA approval, they would immediately put their requirements into effect with no changes in the ramp up until 2016.

The standards — drafted in 2004 — were supposed to begin with the 2009 model year.

“Nothing I saw changed the views that I had before is that there’s a lot of great technology that we need to bring on,” Nichols said in an interview this week after touring the Washington Auto Show.

The EPA said the agency is specifically seeking comment on automaker lead time.

California has said its requirements would reduce auto sales by 4.7 percent by 2020 because complying with the new standards would increase the average cost of vehicles. “Our standards are not the problem. Our standards are part of the solution if we do it right,” Nichols said.

Sue Cischke, Ford Motor Co.’ group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety, said the automaker would face significant hurdles in complying.

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Australia: Bushfires and global warming: is there a link?


David Adam and Ellen Connolly | The Guardian

Scientists are reluctant to link ­individual weather events to global warming, because natural variability will always throw up extreme events. However, they say that climate change loads the dice, and can make severe episodes more likely.

Some studies have started to say how much global warming contributed to severe weather. Experts at the UK Met Office and Oxford University used computer models to say man-made climate change made the killer European heatwave in 2003 about twice as likely. In principle, the technique could be repeated with any extreme storm, drought or flood – which could pave the way for lawsuits from those affected.

Bob Brown, a senator who leads the Australian Greens, said the bushfires showed what climate change could mean for Australia.

“Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25%, 50% more,” he told Sky News. “It’s a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change.”

Models suggest global warming could bring temperature rises as high as 6C for Australia this century, if global emissions continue unabated, with rainfall decreasing in the southern states and increasing further north. As if to demonstrate that, Queensland, in the north, is currently experiencing widespread flooding after rainfall of historic proportions.

More than 60% of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone in the worst floods for more than 30 years. Some 3,000 homes have been affected, and the main highway between Cairns and Townsville has been cut off.

Roger Stone, a climate expert at the University of Southern Queensland, said: “It certainly fits the climate change models, but I have to add the proviso that it’s very difficult, even with extreme conditions like this, to always attribute it to climate change.”

The fires and floods come as politicians gear up to negotiate a new global deal to combat climate change, to replace the Kyoto protocol. Australia plans a comprehensive carbon trading scheme, but green campaigners last year accused Kevin Rudd’s government of a “betrayal” when it pledged to reduce emissions by a modest 5-15% by 2020.

Professor Mark Adams, from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, said the extreme weather conditions that led to the bushfires are likely to occur more often.

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