In my previous posting, "Fixing Soot Gains 20 Years against Global Warming" I found myself omitting some rather surely controversial comments in hopes the idea gains acceptance and distribution. I truly believe it's a win-win proposition for everyone concerned about global environmental problems whether they be industrialists or environmentalists. Airborne soot falls from the air in a matter of weeks, so its abatement is perhaps even more efficacious than curtailing CO2 emissions in terms of cost effectiveness and tangible environmental benefits. If human societies find themselves incapable of abating CO2 emissions at a sufficient rate against any warming milestone that poses any real risk, then buying time with soot mitigation will be of paramount importance.
The appeal of soot mitigation extends well beyond the air-heating and snow-melting effects, however. It extends into human environmental health (ameliorating health problems, lung disorders), arboreal watershed protection (related to both riparian and windborne precipitation recharge of tropical glaciers), environmental health (mercury and arsenic deposition worldwide) and reforestation efforts (converting from agrarian slash and burn methods and wood fuels over to the use of petrol fertilizers, agricultural charcoal and cook fuels).
With such a project would come abatement of the corresponding sulfate and nitrate aerosols which can lead to acid precipitation. Considering at least half of ongoing mercury deposition in the American West comes from coal combustion in East Asia alone the benefits of stack emissions cleanup are truly global in scope. China is currently the biggest emitter of industrial soot & aerosols, but is ready to embark on a broad environmental cleanup along with other reforms in labor rules.
The question of cook fuel conversion is problematic, however, because of the rising price of petrol. Fuel conservation remains still a worthy goal because of the indirect opportunity costs of non-point residential soot emissions in parts of the world where human poverty drives households to employ sooty dung and wood fuels (the latter playing a large role in deforestation) as well as slash and burn agriculture.
But there is a very strange inertia afoot within the ranks of environmental and political activists who are advocating large CO2 reductions - reductions that would bring CO2 emissions to that of preindustrial levels. This inertia may be quite telling, if not disturbing, in that the air- and ice-heating properties of soot are not only being subsumed under a rubric of "carbon emissions" for fear of diluting the message about CO2, but reveal a reluctance to let the science fall where it may.
In the now-overturned conventional view that with their surface-shading effect, sooty brown clouds were masking CO2's greenhouse effect by lowering surface temperatures, CO2 was implicated more than its due. The unspoken heresy is, however, that soot was a dark horse helping shift the blame onto CO2 by claiming CO2 was hiding behind a shady curtain of soot. There have been few concessions forthcoming of a partial exculpation for CO2.
The story behind the new-found data on soot's net heating effect is a long and tangled one. In 2003 Ramanathan's INDOEX efforts into studying the Asian Brown Cloud (now renamed the "Atmospheric Brown Cloud") were thwarted by the IPCC at the behest of China and India. Neither the Indian government nor the Chinese Communist Party wanted one more piece of evidence implicating their role in the ongoing regional climate anomalies of droughts and heat waves. It was no surprise to some but Ramanathan's field data discovery showing brown clouds' net warming was a great surprise to him. The Indian government and CCP were well aware that their pollution might inhere actual air-heating properties, temperature anomalies in the Asian Brown Cloud had been mentioned by other researches since 2001. Were those data ever corroborated by Ramanthan then the Chinese and Indian governments would surely suffer inconvenient political pressure to abate their own pollution.
The implications of this discovery become obvious: If soot's effects and attendant mitigation strategy were taken up as new cause celebre, it may in fact buy sufficient time for science to define the true magnitude of threat posed by CO2 emissions. But what if the prospect of CO2-driven warming proves not so harrowing? Not only would this find the planet's current respite from accelerated warming to be a long-term reprieve, it would ease political pressure to adopt draconian CO2 abatement strategies.
There are vested interests who have put a great deal of money into green technologies and carbon credit arbitrage, and they see no benefit having the public change its perception that greenhouse emissions are less of a threat. Al Gore, as a principal partner of a carbon credit arbitrage firm, Generation Investment Management, has as his fulltime job proselytizing to the world public about the need to adopt a global CO2 cap & trade scheme. Other monied interests see a real benefit in applying a tax overhead on fossil fuel consumption despite the obvious burdens already shouldered by developed nations as they incur more and more domestic trade deficits from globalization.
And with the many and varied interests that'd benefit from CO2 cap & trade schemes - carbon credit-selling developing nations and arbitreurs and rent-seeking green industries seeking government subsidies - vested in obfuscating the simplicity of the soot problem we are at an impasse: For fear that real abatement of soot emissions would ultimately grant a partial exculpation of CO2, their cash cow would go away. Soot is the carbon that shall not be named.
As for the newly established threatened status for polar bears I frankly think many activists would rather keep the polar bears as CO2 poster children than admit that soot even exists. The hypocrisy becomes immediately evident on the polar bear issue, because if the global warming environmentalists truly believe that CO2 is a big threat, and yet they in fact know the data on soot (which some do, I know this from reading several organization blogs), and they then avoid mention of soot for fear of diluting the CO2 message with just the mere hope that soot mitigation will follow along, they would then be intentionally playing a game of brinksmanship.
Again, what are the odds that human society can abate CO2 emissions at a sufficient rate against any real threat posed by global warming? Either global warming activists overestimate the technological and economic ability of societies to transform ourselves into low-carbon economies or they are are knowingly exaggerating the risk.
What are we to think? How serious are the environmentalist activists in seeking protection of the polar bears? Or does this indeed belie a willingness to use the bears as game pieces? Is it even really a crisis?
The data on sootfall in the Arctic are fairly clear and established, but the data on the greenhouse effect remains clouded by complexity with unanticipated heat-exchange capacities found in both the seas and clouds.
If CO2 actually poses any tangible threat then our environmentalists would be wildly mistaken to miss the chance to widen the window of opportunity against the threat and wisely advise the public that we have ignored soot at our peril. If CO2 isn't such a terrible threat, however, then it'd be understandable the activists would ignore soot and play activist games at whim.
However what if CO2 doesn't pose an irreversible and serious threat and soot becomes widely perceived to be the pernicious dark horse that falsely implicated CO2 more than its due? What happens then?
Could it be that the net-warming effects of aerosol brown clouds, once openly discussed and climate science given more time to evaluate the situation, would reveal a far softer CO2 warming signal to the general public? And without CO2 posing as large an environmental threat, are we in fact revealing an ulterior political motive of social engineering via energy command and control? Let there be no doubt that a vast CO2 cap & trade is poised to become the penultimate social dirigist's dream - socially invasive levels of government interference under the rubric of CO2 mitigation have already been felt throughout Europe.
And then how will society view the activists? What's really at risk here? Shall we view them as naught but ostensible environmentists but actual anti-industrialists or anti-capitalists who lost their last great cause celebre? They will lose their opportunity to foist a vast command-and-control system upon the world's nations. What would come with a widespread admission of soot's pernicious effects and excess implication of CO2? Many would find their reputations seriously tarnished. Even with good intentions, duplicity ultimately bears a cost.
The data on tropospheric soot's effect, however, are finally getting the attention they deserve. Already IPCC AR5 is purported to show this newfound data on aerosol soot's net warming effect, and testimony was given in Rep. Henry Waxman late last year.
But witness the past week's political imbroglio involving the proposed Cap&Trade Bill in the U.S. Senate (June 2008), I would have thought Sen. Barbara Boxer, as Rep. Henry Waxman's Democratic colleague, would have taken a more-realistic tack in promoting an environmental bill. And yet the Lieberman-Warner Bill was all about CO2 cap&trade, not about realistic or practical objectives like soot mitigation. It surely made for facile political theater as most Republicans in the American Congress rallied against it, but the bill was assailed upon from its onset on the Senate floor: Easily twenty Democrats were reluctant to endorse the legislation and senior party members asked it be withdrawn. It was.
Each of these attempts at subterfuge will only defer the ultimately inconvenient data on aerosol soot emissions, that soot-ladened tropospheric brown clouds are far more culpable in climate change than is being widely discussed and abatement of their effects offer far greater and nearly instant returns on expenditures in terms of environmental quality. With it could come a partially exculpatory review of CO2 as a dangerous greenhouse gas, as further study is already indicating that although CO2 does indeed warm the atmosphere, the atmospheric response to it is far less dramatic and additional CO2 will only add less and less warmth in a curve of diminishing returns.
Time will tell: After years of consistent increases in global temperatures during the late Twentieth Century an apparent unanticipated stabilization in temperatures is being frankly discussed. Atmospheric temperatures have functionally plateaued for at least the past 7 years, if not 11, since 1997. Missing also is a large latent reservoir of heat in the seas that posed the threat of ocean heat feedback mid-century. The seas have warmed, there's no doubt, but a good amount of the extra heat may have radiated back into space. Also missing is the extra humidity over Antarctica that would lend to making it warmer, yielding accelerated glacial loss in centuries to come. Likewise the Earth's atmosphere is being found to be drier than anticipated in the upper altitudes, again reflecting a much lower warming potential (it's not the heat, it's the humidity).
And finally the sun itself has shown a decreasing trend in energy output since the early 1990's and the Earth is evidently due for another -0.2 degrees Celsius reduction in received solar radiation in addition to the extant -0.1 degr. C. reduction of the past 15 years.
Even were all those stated points were later found to be premature and the sun resumes a steady brilliance 40 years hence, why aren't we then discussing soot mitigation in pursuit of widening our window of opportunity? One might think our environmental activists and politicians would breathe a collective sigh of relief and turn their gaze upon soot as the first order of business. If CO2 is such a huge threat, then ignoring soot is a terrible mistake. But if their willingness to ignore soot belies a feigned seriousness of the situation, then the public can still address the soot problem with aplomb and resolve never to be driven into another panic ever again.
Soot is the carbon that must be named.