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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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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Mississippi: Population helping drive climate change concerns


PAUL SIMS | Starkville Daily News

Population is one factor driving global climate change concerns, a Mississippi State University professor said Monday.  Dr. Roger King, a William L. Giles Distinguished professor and director of MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, spoke to Starkville Rotarians today from his background as chief technologist for Earth Science Applications with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  King cited statistics which showed that in mid-2003, some 6.2 billion people inhabited the planet and the United States had about 290 million residents. As of Friday, the global population figure stood at approximately 6.7 billion and the U.S. number was about 305 million.
The global population increase over roughly the last five years is about 474.1 million. Projections show that by 2025, some 8 billion people will live on the Earth.  “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientific evidence confirms that human activities are a discernible cause of a substantial part of the warming experienced over the 20th century. New studies indicate that temperatures in recent decades are higher than at any time in at least the past 1,000 years. It is very unlikely that these unusually high temperatures can be explained solely by natural climate variations,” the report entitled “Climate Change Impacts on the United States” from 2000 reads.
Other documents and information on the subject of global climate change can be found through
One point King made about the greenhouse effect is that “if it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist,” he said. If greenhouse gases were not in place, the planet could not capture heat, King said.   “The plant has got to warm up or we can’t live,” he said.  “It’s very much a system,” he said and noted that it’s important to monitor what happens in systems.  King noted that 2007 was the eighth warmest year on record and ice mass in at least one location is changing.  “It’s a very challenging thing to look at this,” he said.

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.

Balancing the Economy and the Environment

Anthony Cefali | Gas 2.0

January is a good month. It’s a month that is the human symbol of starting over. Out with the old, in with the new. This January was particularly exciting for us here in the US, as we ushered in a new era of progressive politics with almost a little too much pomp and circumstance. But underneath the excitement lies a particularly disconcerting truth. We still have a nation to fix.

I like getting big things out of the way, so here it is. According to Susan Solomon, scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, once global warming sets in, it isn’t going away. The voice on NPR told me with such solemnity that I assumed that we had already lost the war with Global Warming. No matter how evenly I accelerated my car, it would no longer matter because the damage was done. Once I stopped hyperventilating I realized that there was more to the story, and the thoughtful voice informed me that the effects haven’t reached the point of no return yet. The oceans are currently padding the effects of global warming, holding it in check indefinitely. According to Solomon, the oceans will be able to hold off the siege of carbon dioxide for some time, but there are more immediate problems at hand.

According to Solomon’s study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, not immediately curtailing our carbon emissions could create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest as well as the Mediterranean. I immediately thought of all the wonderful French wines I wouldn’t be able to try if that happened and subsequently panicked until I was informed that even this could take decades. I let out a nervous sigh of relief, knowing that this news just adds to the urgency of our battle for the atmosphere.

“We’re used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix. Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it’ll go away pretty quickly,” Solomon said of cleaning up our current mess. “People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years.  What we’re showing here is that’s not right. It’s essentially an irreversible change.”

It’s still rather unsettling that we can’t get a better picture of what kind of time frame we’re working on here. Global warming isn’t exactly priority number one on everyone’s list, which is understandable considering our current economic meltdown. A Rasmussen Report as well as a Pew Research Center Pole taken around inauguration time showed a general cooling in global warming concern. Again, the current economic crisis calls for immediate attention, but how much longer will it be until global warming gets immediate attention?

Fortunately, we’re already beginning to see a drastic reversal of climate change policies as President Obama opened the door for states to regulate their own emissions (something California has been chomping at the bit to do). Of course I’m worried that global warming apathy will continue and lead to irreparable repercussions, but at the same time I’m optimistic. The Pew pole showed that in general, environmental issues are important to the American public, and that right now we’re just experiencing a lull. On the other hand the Rasmussen Report showed again that the American public is becoming increasingly divided along party lines, especially when dealing with the environment (21% of questioned Republicans believe that global warming is being induced by human activity).

President Obama has made it a priority of his to curtail global warming, and he hired an energy secretary who knows his science to prove it, but we can’t forget that our planet is our responsibility. No matter how many laws are enacted or how much reach the EPA is granted, it will still ultimately be up to us how far we allow global warming to go before it’s stomped out.

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Oregon: National “global warming teach-in” returns

Shelby Wood  | The Oregonian

Eban Goodstein, an economics professor at Lewis & Clark College, is back on YouTube with the “Oregon Climate Dialogue,” another national effort to focus students, Congress and the rest of us on strategies to slow climate change.

The video, which features interviews with Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s sustainability policy advisor, David Van’t Hof, and Angus Duncan, chairman of Oregon’s Global Warming Commission was uploaded last night by the small Portland-based staff of the National Teach-In.

Last year, Goodstein’s first teach-in was called Focus the Nation.This year’s National Teach-In takes place Feb. 5.

The name isn’t all that’s changed.

“Focus the Nation” and Goodstein parted ways after last year’s teach-in, and Goodstein dropped the “FTN” from its name. Goodstein’s had less money and time to organize the 2009 event, so it’s considerably smaller — about 700 colleges, universities, high schools, faith organizations and civic groups.

And, instead of trying to “focus the nation” on the issue of global warming in general, the Feb. 5 effort will press for swift policy change at the national and state level during the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

The heart of the teach-in, as it was last year, is to encourage community debate and discussion around a 45-minute webcast about climate change, available for download.

In addition, Goodstein has invited 150 members of Congress to attend teach-in events on Feb. 5 or speak, via webcam from the U.S. Capitol, with college students in their districts who are concerned about climate change. He expects about two dozen to say yes.

“We want to build on that starting this year,” Goodstein said. “We want that institutionalized, an annual dialogue between campuses and Congress.”

In Oregon, the list of campuses hosting educational events as part of the teach-in range from OHSU to Eastern Oregon University, from Portland’s De La Salle North Catholic High to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

Go to the national map to see the full list of participating institutions.