The dirt on Black Carbon

village fires

How convenient this is! With all the doubt now falling on the culpability of carbon dioxide (“carbon”) in the crime of global warming, the worried warmists have wheeled in a new culprit accused, already chained and bearing a conspicuously disreputable name — Black Carbon.

Just as CO2 has been wilting under an intensive examination and showing undisputable signs of innocence, how lucky to have soot standing by to shoulder the blame on behalf of we horrid humans.

Anything black is usually unpleasant, certainly dirty. Though anyone with a smattering of science knows that elemental carbon is black – always was, always will be – the warmists must label soot with that needless adjective because they’ve thrashed the word ‘carbon’ almost to death in labelling the odourless, colourless, tasteless, vital and totally innoffensive carbon dioxide.

Which, of course, they deliberately did in order to paint the gas black. Now they want to paint soot black instead. But it already was black and most people knew that. But now they must actually call it black. What a tricky knot for the warmists! How delicious to see them struggle with it. What does it tell us about their reasons? Their science?

Now we hear that cutting soot emissions is the fastest, most economical way to slow global warming. Well, who would have guessed? We thought the problem was CO2 and we must immediately remove every molecule of it from the sky or the Earth would die by Friday. Fryday? Funny.

But science moves on and we just have to keep up – now we’re told that a really very large part of the warming problem has been caused by soot. It’s worse than anything except CO2 (it even warms more than water vapour).

One Dr Mark Z. Jacobson made a presentation to the American Chemical Society (ACS) on August 31:

“No other measure [than controlling soot] could have such an immediate effect,” said Jacobson, who is with Stanford University. “Soot emissions are second only to carbon dioxide (CO2) in promoting global warming, but its effects have been underestimated in previous climate models. Consequently, soot’s effect on climate change has not been adequately addressed in national and international global warming legislation. Soot emissions account for about 17 percent of global warming, more than greenhouse gases like methane. Soot’s contribution, however, could be reduced by 90 percent in 5-10 years with aggressive national and international policies.”

How do we reduce soot? He mentions filtering diesel exhausts, but doesn’t mention costs. How would reducing polar ice loss reduce global warming? He doesn’t say, but he should. The Arctic sea ice cover, which plummeted during 2007 to the lowest level recorded in 30 years and caused such angst, yet has been higher in every year since, occurred at the same time as global temperatures fell about 0.7°C.

Which means the sea ice loss categorically wasn’t caused by rising atmospheric temperatures. So how is “restoring” the sea ice going to bring the air temperature down? It’s already down. For those who haven’t heard, the sea ice loss was caused by winds and currents bringing warm water into the polar region and moving the sea ice out into warmer Atlantic waters.

He also claims soot “emissions” (implying only Man’s doing, not Nature’s) are second to CO2, wilfully ignoring the contribution of water vapour, actually the king of atmospheric “greenhouse” gases.

This is so misleading. Anyway, he’s articulated a fast, easy way to get on with saving the planet from all this alleged warming while keeping the pressure on the humans and thus leaving the door open to government taxation and interference.

Well done, him. There’ll be no interruption to his funding.

Jacobson makes some curious claims in his presentation, among them:

  • Continued melting of sea ice above the Arctic Circle will be a tipping point for the Earth’s climate.
  • Black carbon is a potent warming agent. [Particulates apparently also explain the cooling from 1945–1960 or so. Can it do both?]
  • Almost the entire abstract is questionable, especially when he says that “fossil-fuel soot” and “biofuel soot” are different — how?

One thing is for certain: this scientist is more focused on policy than science when he claims:

Controlling fossil-fuel and biofuel soot appears to be the fastest method of reducing Arctic ice loss and global warming than any other control option, including control of CH4 or CO2, although all controls are needed.

Trust me, I’m a doctor. But it’s hard not to agree that it’s easier than reducing our output of CO2, though he hasn’t offered any costs for doing so. Not scientific to cost it, I s’pose.


Searching for an image of black carbon diverted my attention to a fundamental problem.

The picture above comes from Kohlua, India, published in the NY Times of April 15, 2009. The story is about cooking fires and their (alleged) effect on global warming. Have a read.

The living conditions are very bad and some solutions are elementary. My reaction is twofold: 1. Why are the people so poor, and what is their government doing about that? 2. Forget about the minor global warming — get them a chimney! Even a small chimney would take those fumes out of their faces and give them and their children a better chance of good health.

But get them properous, that’s what they want, and that’s what will restore their environment. Build a lovely, big, coal-fired power station, give them affordable electric lights and stoves and watch them advance!

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MarianYet Another RichardRichard TreadgoldJim McK Recent comment authors
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Jim McK
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Jim McK

I once spent a few weeks in the Punjab which is basically a very productive flat basin surrounded by mighty mountains. It is heavily populated and trees are scare. Bricks are in high demand and the major method of local brick production is in small kilns using car tyres as fuel. The air gets pretty thick and visibility can get down to a few km’s or less.

And then it rains and within an hour the Hindu Kush 100km away is crystal clear in all its glory.

Richard Treadgold
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That’s interesting to know, Jim. It wouldn’t take too much to install a few modern kilns fired by either coal dust or gas to make a proper difference both to the economics of brick-making and to the environment.

Yet Another Richard
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Yet Another Richard

A minor nit-pick.
Not all carbon is black, merely the amorphous and hexagonal crystal forms. The tetrahedral crystals are renowned for their colourless clarity.

(translation: soot and graphite are black, diamonds are clear and colourless, except for minimal metallic contaminants.)

Richard Treadgold
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Hi Richard!

What you say is true and I should have spelled it out. It might be another reason the warmists need to use the word black, to exclude diamond.

Marian
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Marian

“What you say is true and I should have spelled it out. It might be another reason the warmists need to use the word black, to exclude diamond.”

Wouldn’t they be laughable a campaign against diamond mining to stop Global Warming.

Something James Hansen could tag onto his No coal mining shenanigans.

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