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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Bulgaria: Within 20 years Dobrudja to Turn into a Desert



In less than 20 years Dobrudja (northeastern Bulgaria) known for its wheat fields and rich harvest, might turn into a desert. The same fortune might befall some regions in the Danube Plain as well as on the Romanian regions Banat, Oltenia and Muntenia. This might happen due to climate changes, shows a research conducted for several years by specialists from 13 leading European meteorology and hydrology institutes. According to the scientists, after 20 years the southern part of the Old Continent will be strongly affected by the global warming and in many places there will be droughts and poor crops. The climate changes will cause a decrease in grain production nearly in half.
“In two decades the global warming might lead to droughts in at least 10 Romanian regions, which will lower by nearly 40 per cent the grain production,” said Romania’s minister of Environment Nicolae Nemirschi about the research, quoted by Adjerpress.
‘We have to take the results of that research under serious consideration and to try to slow down the process and to prepare ourselves for the expected changes,’ added the minister.



The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a strong warning that global warming will have “substantial human health impacts” within the next few decades. The warning came in a report released only days after the same agency declined to regulate global warming-causing greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

“Today typifies the climate-change schizophrenia in the Bush administration,” said U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “On one hand, government scientists are saying that global warming poses grave threats to our health and our welfare, and, on the other hand, [there] are White House political hacks following the oil industry’s bidding to do nothing.”

The EPA report warns that rising temperatures will cause air quality to worsen in Eastern cities, as well as more deaths among the elderly, the poor and inner-city dwellers during future heat waves.

“It’s going to be hotter; it’s going to be hotter sooner in the year than it was in the past,” said co-author Kristie Ebi. Young people now living near Washington “[are] going to look back and think back about how nice the summers used to be,” she said. “Within 20, 30 years, on average, the [public] should notice that it’s warmer.”

Global warming is also likely to lead to more frequent and powerful hurricanes, dwindling water supplies in the West, loss of coastal land to rising sea levels and storm surges, and the more rapid spread of food- and water-borne illnesses.

According to the EPA’s former deputy associate administrator, Jason K. Burnett, the president’s deputy chief of staff for policy originally approved an EPA decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as air pollutants, a move supported by several cabinet members and senior administration officials. Before the decision could be made official, however, the White House prohibited the EPA from taking action.

U.S. Takes Global Lead in Wind Power, Passes Germany

Todd White and Rachel Graham | Bloomberg

The U.S. increased its wind-generation capacity by 50 percent last year, overtaking Germany as the world’s largest producer, the Global Wind Energy Council said.

U.S. generation capacity rose to more than 25 gigawatts, the Brussels-based industry association said today in an e-mailed report. That’s about 21 percent of total global capacity of 121 gigawatts.

Some governments are trying to generate more power from renewable sources to cut dependence on energy imports and to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for global warming and a byproduct of traditional generation from fossil fuels. The European Union is seeking to increase the share of energy from renewables to 20 percent by 2020.

Germany’s capacity was almost 24 gigawatts at the end of 2008 and China more than doubled its capacity last year to more than 12 gigawatts, the report said. The global wind turbine market was worth about $47.5 billion last year, according to the GWEC.

As CO2 remains in the atmosphere for a century or longer, annual output worldwide “must be dramatically reduced” to stabilize levels of the greenhouse gas to avoid the most harmful effects of global warming, the U.S. government’s Climate Change Science Program said in a report last month.

That will require a decline of about 70 percent to 90 percent from today’s levels, according to the study published under the administration of President George W. Bush on Jan. 16, its last working day in office.

Is Punxsutawney Phil responding to global warming?

Eoin O’Carroll | The Christian Science Monitor

As dawn broke on Monday morning, officials in cities and towns across the United States and Canada, engaged in an annual ritual of attempting to predict the weather by harassing a marmot.

According to the website of the Punxsutawney (Pa.) Groundhog Club, the most famous of these marmots, Punxsutawney Phil, emerged from his burrow (or more accurately, was dragged out of a box), surveyed the 13,000-person crowd that had gathered to see him, and uttered something in the obscure language of Groundhogese to Club President Bill Cooper, who then proclaimed that the large rodent had seen his shadow and we would therefore be getting six more weeks of winter.

This isn’t particularly surprising. Since 1886, when the tradition first began in the western Pennsylvania borough, Phil has presaged an early spring only 14 times.

But – as another signal of our warming climate – nine of those times have occurred since 1975.

Phil may be right in the broad outlines – it has been getting warmer lately, particularly since the 70s – but his year-by-year prediction skills could use some improvement. Investigative reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution compared Phil’s pronouncements since 1994 to data from the National Weather Service. The verdict: For the past 15 years, Phil has had an accuracy rate of 50 percent, no better than a coin toss.

Of course, Phil isn’t the only weather-prognosticating groundhog in North America, and not all of them are in agreement. Atlanta’s Gen. Beauregard Lee, whom the Journal-Constitution says has only a 31 percent accuracy rate, predicted an early spring. So did Staten Island Chuck, who took the opportunity this year to bite New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, drawing blood.

Other groundhogs predicting an early spring include New York state’s Dunkirk Dave and Malverne Mel.

Joining Phil in predicting a longer winter are Woodstock Willie of Woodstock, Illinois, Jimmy the Groundhog of Sun Prarie, Wisc., and  Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, North Carolina. Similar predictions occurred north of the border, with Manitoba Merv Ontario’s Wiarton Willie each seeing their shadow.

Six more weeks of cool temperatures would not be terribly surprising, given that this past year has been cooler than previous years this decade, mostly because of the La Niña that developed in the Pacific Ocean. The meteorology site Weather Underground, notes predictions  (by human weather forecasters) that February will see colder than average temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, and near-average temperatures to the Midwest and Northeast.

NASA meanwhile, predicts that the globe will set a new high-temperature record sometime in the next year or two.

Europe: EC warned against possible devastating global warming

European Commission has warned that global warming might be more devastating than previously thought and called on negotiators at global talks this year to remain open to deeper, more costly emissions cuts.

Mr Stavros Dimas European environment commissioner said that “This is almost certainly the last chance to get the climate under control before it passes the point of no return.” He made the warning as he unveiled a proposed European negotiating position for talks in December in Copenhagen on a successor to the Kyoto protocol.

He said that it would call for emissions from the aviation and shipping industries to be tackled, despite the fact that both sectors are seen suffering from global recession.

EU cited growing scientific evidence that emissions will have to be stabilized at lower levels than previously thought, possibly as low as 350 parts per million, compared to current levels of 380 ppm. It added that “It is imperative to secure an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen that leaves the door open for a lower stabilization level.”

Annual spending to cut global emissions would have to reach EUR 175 billion by 2020, with more than half of that in developing countries. But the report omitted plans described in an earlier draft for a USD 200 billion levy on rich countries between 2013 and 2020 to help poor nations agree concrete steps to cut emissions.

EC called on industrialized nations to cut their emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. All but the poorest developing countries should limit emissions to 15% to 30% below business as usual levels, with a rapid decrease in emissions due to deforestation.