Thursday, April 22, 2010

Black Carbon = Fast Warming = Early Death

If I feel a strain this week, it's not because of the volcano blowing planes out of the sky over Europe. Unless the larger Icelandic volcano nearby goes off, scientists say the dangerous ash will not really cool the planet much. It may damage our economy more in the short run.

But the biggest-ever suspension of air travel reduced carbon emissions for a few days, and taught a few people how to take a train, or use video-conferencing. Every cloud has a silver lining.

No, my worry is about this week's program. All I have is an interview with a top scientist, a recording of Congressional testimony, and a reading from James Hansen's latest book.

Sounds less exciting than a volcano, or Tiger's latest mistress expose...

But wait, what if I told you half of the recent ice melt in the Arctic was not caused by extra greenhouse heat? What if rivers running dry, and people dying by the millions, all came from the same cause?

Did you know there is fast-warming, and slow warming? That smog could be heating and hiding warming at the same time? So much, that we could experience a permanent burst of heat, taking us past the 2 degree safety mark, in just a matter of days?

Science can be way ahead of Hollywood when it comes to danger and mystery. Welcome to the Radio Ecoshock special on BLACK CARBON.

It is as evil as it sounds. Black carbon comes from incomplete combustion. It happens naturally from forest fires - although some of the great fires are not so natural. Warming has already shifted rainfall patterns and brought earlier dryness - from Australia to California to Greece and Africa.

A lot of black carbon comes from diesel engines - the highway trucks, public buses, construction equipment, generators and trains. These particles are too small to see. Photo blow ups reveal diesel carbon looking like tiny meteorites, with rough surfaces and pock-marks. Those surfaces get coated with pesticides and other toxic chemicals, making it directly past our body defenses, into our blood streams. You can find out more in my Radio Ecoshock special for April 25th, 2008 "Highway to Hell, How Smog Kills". Grab that free from our archives at

The short story is low-level smog greatly raises the number of heart attacks. As Dr. Joel Schwartz of Harvard reveals, patients die quickly in their homes, or on the streets, DOA before they reach the hospital. This happens all over the world.

But black carbon haze goes much higher than our office towers. It floats up into the atmosphere, browning out the Sun - over New England in the Summer, over the West Coast cities, over the whole of Pakistan and Northern India, over much of China. And, as we'll learn today, these dark particles absorb heat directly from the Sun, helping to overheat the world.

The haze also reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth, reaching our crops, by as much as 10 percent. A huge loss of agricultural productivity.

Even when they land, most often collecting on mountains, and in the Arctic, black carbon speeds up melting of snow and ice. That change of Albedo adds to warming, and the abnormal run-off adds to both drought inland, and rising seas everywhere.

And strangest of all, we could probably fix the black carbon problem comparatively cheaply. But if we fix it quick, the climate could suddenly turn on us, heating up the world. Damned if we do, and damned if we don't. Welcome to the ironic universe.

I'm Alex Smith. Let's find out about black carbon, before it kills us.


including all the links you need plus...

* a quick summary of expert testimony on black carbon to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Representative Ed Markey.

* and clips of what the world's biggest coal companies told Congress about global warming.

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