Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Carbon Soot and Global Warming

One argument against U.S. action to reverse global warming is that emissions from growing economies will swamp any positive measures that mature economies may be able to effect. But the New York Times reports that there are inexpensive measures that could have a dramatic impact on climate change:
In Kohlua, in central India, with no cars and little electricity, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, are near zero. But soot — also known as black carbon — from tens of thousands of villages like this one in developing countries is emerging as a major and previously unappreciated source of global climate change.
While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming — especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.
Another argument against action against global warming is that the cost of remediation will slow social and economic progress. But replacing dirty stoves could be relatively inexpensive and pay dividends in terms of improved standards of living for third world households.
Reducing soot emissions could be more effective than reducing CO2 in producing immediate benefits:
In fact, reducing black carbon is one of a number of relatively quick and simple climate fixes using existing technologies — often called “low hanging fruit” — that scientists say should be plucked immediately to avert the worst projected consequences of global warming.
Replacing dirty cooking stoves would have other environmental benefits like reducing deforestation and significant health benefits for families. New solar powered stoves could cost $20 and yield benefits that could pay for the modest cost many times over.


Anonymous Kilroy said...

Tommy wouldn’t it helpful if the U.S. banned the use of charcoal? Our environment gets slammed twice. Once during the manufacturing of charcoal or rather how wood is burned during process and then again when the consumer uses it. The folks in the villages use their stoves as a means of survival and we use our BBQ grills for pleasure. Ops, almost forgot the damaging petroleum based lighter fluid that goes with charcoal! Triple threat to the environment.

I say give those villagers solar powered eclectic hotplates. Wait why not solar powered electric BBQ grill for us folks in the U.S.? (smile)

3:08 PM, April 16, 2009  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

You have a good point. Let's try an order of magnitude estimate, starting with India.

U.S.: 100 million households x 25% charcoal grill ownership x .5frequency of use (once a week for half of the year) = 650 million charcoal fires a year

India: 250 million households x 75% cook stove ownership x 7 fires per week = 68 billion fires per year

The U.S. use is just 1% of India's. Add the rest of Asia and Africa, and that figure would shrink to well under 0.5%.

If cook stoves cause 18% of global warming, then charcoal fires in the U.S. would cause less than 0.1%.

I wouldn't want to create a furor (Al Gore wants to take away my barbeque!) when the net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be relatively small.

3:55 PM, April 16, 2009  

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