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Earth Science

Soot Is Warming the World — a Lot 251

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-a-suit-makes-you-cool dept.
sciencehabit writes "Soot is bad stuff all around, whether you're breathing it into your lungs or it's heating the atmosphere by absorbing more of the sun's energy. But a new 4-year, 232-page assessment (PDF) of soot's role in climate finds that the combustion product could be warming the world twice as much as previously thought. The study points policymakers toward the best targets for reducing climate-warming soot emissions while at the same time improving the health of billions of people."
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Soot Is Warming the World — a Lot

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  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:22PM (#42608853)

    This reminds me of a cartoon [about.com]. Caption: "What if global warming is a hoax and we create a better world for nothing?"

    The reason that occurred to me is, here's a case where it makes sense to reduce a pollutant (soot) for public health reasons, even setting the global warming issue aside.

    • by s.petry (762400) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:29PM (#42608967)

      What you present is the argument that neither side want's to hear. Trust me, I tried. The arguments for curing global warming are identical to cleaning up pollution. In the 70s, there was a huge push on cleaning up pollution. The "clean" campaigns were all silenced in favor of high profit for a select few.

      While I agree with you, good luck getting anyone in current argument crowd discussing anything as logical as pollution.

      Basically we have 2 fronts: Big Oil and Money people saying "We are not doing anything wrong", and the other half saying "Humans are a plague on the planet." Anyone else is ignored, ridiculed, or drown out in noise.

      • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:00PM (#42609437) Journal

        The argument is also identical to pre-emptive moves to prepare the world economy for the end of cheap oil. It's irrelevant to Big Oil's cheerleaders, and seemingly by the general public, who want to believe, no matter how foolish it is, that fossil fuels cause only limited (if any) climate change and are of infinite supply.

        And you'll find that the actual climatology community doesn't have a lot of "humans are a plague" types. While there are some extreme green types out there, that everyone who accepts AGW is some crazed tree hugging lunatic is a pretty huge strawman.

        • "... to prepare the world economy for the end of cheap oil."

          We saw the end of "cheap" oil years ago. I think you mean "necessary" oil.

          It will still be necessary, of course, for lots of things. Just not powering automobiles.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tmosley (996283)
            Oil is priced the same as its 50 year average. Well, priced in non-inflating gold, that is.

            Oil only seems expensive because governments around the world are destroying the value of their currencies.
            • "Oil only seems expensive because governments around the world are destroying the value of their currencies."

              You have a point. But when you adjust for new sources, it still reflects unhealthy inflation due to scarcity. Despite government rhetoric to the contrary, in a healthy market, prices don't inflate, they go down. Look at electronics for example, and computers specifically.

              History is chock full of examples of deflation in healthy markets. Despite what "mainstream" economists say, inflation is bad news. But oil is a limited resource, so the more used, the scarcer it gets.

              • by khallow (566160)

                But when you adjust for new sources, it still reflects unhealthy inflation due to scarcity.

                There's no such thing as "inflation due to scarcity" because inflation is a drop in the value of currency (typically through creation of such currency in large amounts, but possibly also through faster transaction speeds, also called "velocity of money").

                Here, the currency maintains its value, but the good rises in price because the supply drops. The good becomes more valuable because there's only enough of it to cover the more valuable uses of the good. This is standard supply and demand. It's a healthy

                • "There's no such thing as "inflation due to scarcity" because inflation is a drop in the value of currency (typically through creation of such currency in large amounts, but possibly also through faster transaction speeds, also called "velocity of money")."

                  Yes, technically you are correct, and I should have been more clear. I wasn't referring to actual inflation of currency, but inflation or deflation of the price of the commodity.

            • by tragedy (27079) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:33PM (#42612487)

              Can you define "non-inflating gold" for us? How is this gold different from the regular inflating type that's risen around 300% in the last ten years? Is "non-inflating" gold a short hand for gold value adjusted for the current position in the gold boom-bust cycle?

        • by s.petry (762400)

          On the surface, I agree. A bit further, I don't. When is the last time we hard how damaging Oil and Coal are to Humans or the environment? The simple answer is, that we don't. There are numerous studies that show how damaging frack mining is, yet you have to go out of your way to find information. So it's not just about the financial aspect (cheap vs. expensive). It's also that you won't hear how harmful the products and byproducts are. That information is getting buried as fast as it can be created.

        • by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:52PM (#42611015)
          The problem is, the crazed tree hugging lunatics who think humans are a plague are very loud, and get a lot of attention.
    • by OakDragon (885217) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:53PM (#42609323) Journal

      "What if global warming is a hoax and we create a better world for nothing?"

      I'm thinking the real question is, "What if global warming is true (and it seems to be), but we spend trillions of dollars - presumably to the
      detriment of other beneficial things - to obtain only a marginally better outcome?"

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:17PM (#42609711)

        "What if global warming is true ... but we spend trillions of dollars - presumably to the detriment of other beneficial things - to obtain only a marginally better outcome?"

        I don't know if it's true (and I do have my doubts) but I think this is really the essential point.

        Even if you dismiss economist Bjorn Lomborg as an "anti-warmist", nobody has really refuted his calculations: that the cost of reducing CO2 warming by 1 degree C over the course of 100 years is about the same that it would cost to completely end world hunger... and that's taking changed conditions and population into account.

        Which is more important?

        • Sell it this way:

          If you want to keep your private island from sinking in the ocean, stop the planet from warming up.

          It doesn't matter how the planet is warming up.
          If we know we can prevent some or most of the damage by not use using dirty combustion methods,
          Why wouldn't we?

          • by swillden (191260)

            If we know we can prevent some or most of the damage by not use using dirty combustion methods, Why wouldn't we?

            That's an easy one. We wouldn't because the alternatives to those dirty combustion methods are more expensive. Note that "more expensive" doesn't mean "requires more money" because money isn't a real thing, it's just a placeholder. it means that the alternatives require more resources, whether they be raw materials, labor, etc., resources that could be applied to solving other problems like, perhaps, the aforementioned world hunger.

            In fact, world hunger isn't a problem of insufficient production, it's a p

            • by sjames (1099)

              More like the alternatives have a greater up-front expense.

              A number of them could work out much cheaper once in place.

              • by khallow (566160)

                A number of them could work out much cheaper once in place.

                There are a variety of sayings on wishing that cover this situation. In practice, whacking on an economy with a mallet breaks things.

            • by riverat1 (1048260)

              Don't forget to include the raw materials in the form of fossil fuels that you have to continuously feed a FF power plant to keep it going.

          • by Rockoon (1252108)

            Sell it this way:

            If the plain truth doesn't convince enough people to support your policy, then the problem is your policy.

            Stop being dishonest fucks.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mbkennel (97636)

          "at the cost of reducing CO2 warming by 1 degree C over the course of 100 years is about the same that it would cost to completely end world hunger."
          That's actually pretty small. The cost of not reducing CO2 will of course include substantial destruction of highly economically valuable coastal infrastructure which supplies jobs and creates wealth, as well as lowering agricultural productiivty and increasing food costs.

          The error is computing the "cost of hunger" using today's data.

          1 degree C is huge as a lo

          • "The error is computing the "cost of hunger" using today's data."

            No, it's not, and it's not small, either.

            Note that I stated he already took into account the changed conditions (like projected crop failures and desertification due to warming), and increased population. His calculations were based on the worst-case IPCC predictions of the time.

            Of course, the upcoming IPCC report retracts many of those predictions, and discusses far less severe consequences than it had projected before.

            And if you don't want to put up with "coastal destruction", don't live there. E

            • by riverat1 (1048260)

              Of course, the upcoming IPCC report retracts many of those predictions, and discusses far less severe consequences than it had projected before.

              Don't count on it. My understanding is that it won't be that much different than the previous one and many of the differences will show worse effects than before.

    • Whether or not it is a hoax, or to what degree it is sensationalized, would impact the kinds of measures you were willing to take, however.

      If for example you could create a compelling case that "unless we stop burning all coal by February 1, the world will implode", I imagine people would be willing to take pretty drastic measures, and it might even come down to armed conflict.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hairyfeet (841228)

      The problem is NOT a case of "creating a better world for nothing" as many of us that are currently against AGW would think that would be great, wonderful, all for it. the problem that many of us have against AGW is the current "solutions" are a scam [nakedcapitalism.com] set up by the same groups that gave us credit default swaps and all the other lovely scams in the real estate bubble which We, The People, are still being handed bills for.

      Take Mr "inconvenient truth" Rev Al Gore, not only has he not said a word about tariffs

      • So your ENTIRE resistance is an ad hominem attack ? "There are scam artists cashing in on AGW - therefore I refuse to listen to the concerned scientists or give credence to the theory".

        There are scam artists in everything. There were scam artists in the Y2K days - but that doesn't mean the crisis wasn't real. Some of the money spent averting that crisis went to scam artists, but if we hadn't spent ANY money we would NOT have averted the crisis and it would have been disastrous.
        Now you're saying that because

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        I see a lot of political statements in your post including the implicit assumption that climate scientists positions are political in nature. What if they are not?

    • by tmosley (996283) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:26PM (#42609849)
      It's not the same. When you drive up the costs of using fossil fuels, commodity agriculture products get more expensive, and people in the third world starve and riot, creating misery.

      If the AGW people would focus their efforts on expanding use of nuclear energy, especially new, safe designs, then there wouldn't be a problem. But they don't want to do that. They want carbon taxes and increased government intervention on every front.
      • by The_Noid (28819)

        It's not the same. When you drive up the costs of using fossil fuels, commodity agriculture products get more expensive, and people in the third world starve and riot, creating misery.

        Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the opposite where true.
        Small-scale farming as happens in the third world is not nearly as dependant on fossil fuels as our first-world large-scale farming. That means a higher oil price will make local farming more competitive, and local farmers can actually compete with the imported weste

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TapeCutter (624760)
      That's my favorite political cartoon, glad to see others spreading it. :)

      As for TFA, twice the forcing from soot is within the previous error bars [wikipedia.org]. Studies like this don't really tell us anything new, but they are important if you want to shrink those pesky error bars. As can be seen from the graph, forcing from soot is still dwarfed by the forcing from CO2.
    • This reminds me of a cartoon [about.com]. Caption: "What if global warming is a hoax and we create a better world for nothing?"

      The false assumption there is that the cost of "creating a better world" is zero. It also implies that, for some reason, a world with less CO2 emissions is a good thing, even if turns out CO2 emissions don't do anything bad. Looking at the measures countries are taking with AGW, it looks like the "better world" will consist of one where power producers are taxed more, and household power bills increase. Um, yay?

      It's likely that, if global warming turns out to be a non-issue, the measures taken to combat it

      • by silentcoder (1241496) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:29AM (#42614673) Homepage

        >Looking at the measures countries are taking with AGW, it looks like the "better world" will consist of one where power producers are taxed more, and household power bills increase. Um, yay?

        Firstly - that's bullshit, the money saved on healthcare costs alone will be far larger than what is spent on additional energy costs even if you were right.
        To get the TRUE price of fossil fuels we would have to demand they run with zero-pollution, only then are we internalizing the costs that pollution is exerting on the consumer. Do you really think coal power plants would still cost so little if they had to filter every pollutant out and store it safely instead of pumping it into the air and making us pay for the results ?
        But even though it would cost a fortune more to have clean coal, it would STILL cost LESS than we ALREADY spend on healthcare caused by pollution.

        And then your basic assumptions is false anyway:

        *More green energy would cost LESS to produce in the medium because fuel is not having to be paid for - in fact, many of them are cheaper even in the short term.
        *In Australia there is already measure being proposed to tax people who generate some of their power off-grid from solar. The massive reductions in their power bills from doing so is causing a major price depression on the power plants. So much so that the crony-capitalism of the power generators are trying to demand people can only get HALF the power they generate themselves off their bill !

        So who is trying to prevent normal market operations now ?
        The REAL truth is that investment in green energy even on the SMALL scale of "my house during daylight hours while using grid at night" is already adding competition that drives down prices for consumers. More green energy on the large scale will only increase this.

        No my friend - fossil energy companies are battling AGW measures because that is their excuse to prevent anybody from investing in renewable energy. They don't want people investing in renewable energy because they don't want the competition. Competition drives down prices - which is good for consumers, but bad for incumbents. The entire anti-AGW campaign is nothing but classic monopolist behaviour by an incumbent industry trying all in their power to prevent the rise of competing products that can and will consistently undercut it and will only be able to undercut it FURTHER over time as initial investments are paid off and production is scaled up.

    • Unfortunately that oversimplified cartoon is also a great example of why we don't generally let cartoonists determine public policy. How do you define "better": Is a "better world" one in which poor people have less to eat, and poor people have less access to the benefits of technologies like lighting and refrigeration? Is that "better"?

      See, the core of the problem is that the competing energy technologies that you just described as "better" (as if that's simply a given) are actually still literally prohi

    • Thats what I was saying before! My position on Global Warming is something along the lines of: Yes, global temperature averages are up. No, I am not convinced that humans are entirely the cause. (anthro centric global warming). However, that being said, I am ENTIRELY FOR any action that reduces the human impact on the environment, WITHOUT the potential to further damage it. (Examples of bad plans that have been floated in the past 5 or so years include iron oxide in the oceans, mylar bags of C02 anchored to
      • by deimtee (762122)
        Just curious, but why is the "add iron oxide to the oceans" a bad plan?
        Large areas of ocean are basically lifeless deserts due to a lack of iron.
        • The problem is the plans are rather indiscriminate about how they would go at it, as (obviously) not all the ocean is as you describe and the long term effects of the algae blooms they intend to cause are not particularly well known. We already know that huge algae blooms can have negative effects on other sea life ie red tide. While on the short term, it looks like it may be a viable plan, I personally think that alternatives that do not ADD yet another contaminant to the ecosystem would be far more ideal.
          • by deimtee (762122)
            Nasty algae blooms seem like they should be fairly easy to avoid. Take it slow with the first iron additions, measure the response and calibrate from there.
            A major looming problem that doesn't get enough attention (imho) is the impending collapse of wild ocean fisheries. Realistically there is no way to stop the current over-fishing in international waters, and giving the eco-system a boost seems the best way to mitigate the damage.
    • In fact it would be best to downplay the global warming aspect as much as possible, you'll still get environmentalist support but without the climate denialists' opposition.

  • Global Dimming (Score:5, Interesting)

    by paysonwelch (2505012) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:24PM (#42608873) Homepage
    Everyone hears about global warming, but did you know there is also something called global dimming? Although there are many probable causes, soot falls into this category as well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_dimming [wikipedia.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:25PM (#42608889)

    I find it surprising that this study is so late to the global warming game. I wonder how this affects the existing climate models. For, if as the study says, the exisitng affects of soot have been understated by a factor of 100%, does that not mean that the existing warming models are overstating the effect of CO2?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ArsonSmith (13997)

      Can i get a refund on my carbon credits then?

    • I find it surprising that this study is so late to the global warming game.

      It's actually really depressing how much we don't know about the climate system (or exciting, if you're the guy embarking into a new world to discover).

    • The article indirectly touches on that:

      By drawing on observations to better understand the behavior of climate models, Bond and her colleagues concluded that atmospheric soot particles 100 nanometers or so in diameter are absorbing enough solar energy to warm the atmosphere with about 1.1 watts per square meter—twice as large a driver of warming as most researchers had estimated. That makes it the second largest humanmade contributor to global warming behind the dominant driver: carbon dioxide. "If

      • by khallow (566160)

        "we could buy ourselves up to half a degree (Celsius) less warmingâ"or a couple of decades of respite."

        Or a century of respite. even if this research is true, the above statement depends on those models being accurate. Half a degree C is at least a third of all warming since the industrial age, including both man-made and not. That may mean that greenhouse gas induced warming is far less severe than predicted and that would in turn result in future warming being much lower than predicted.

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      It won't effect climate models that much. They already include aerosols in their calculations. There will just be some adjustments for the increased knowledge of that part of the aerosol calculations. I don't expect to see drastic changes in their output.

  • And... (Score:3, Funny)

    by taz346 (2715665) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:28PM (#42608945)
    Of course now we can all eagerly await the responses from the Heartland Institute and others touting the health and economic benefits of soot.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thank you, soot!

    - From Frozen Hell (AKA. Finland) with love!

  • Whenever I see or touch soot, it is ambient temperature. Not sure how inert particles in the air make the air warm

    "/sarcasm"

  • War results in a great deal more soot than would be expected from either its expenditures, or its fuel use. In 2005, I pointed out the the data from World War II, and from Iraq, both pointed to a soot factor. Since large particulate matter falls out of the atmosphere more quickly than CO2, this effect would show a short term increase in warming, which would then tail off rapidly. Large particulate combustion products have a low CO2 equivalence over the long term, but in the short term produce the same amount of greenhouse forcing. This is also true of slash and burn agriculture, and other incomplete combustion processes. The linked to study is important because it confirms what was theoretically predicted.

    Climate science wins again.

  • It was less that two years ago that they said that the reason warming is lower than forecasts is because of pollution in China Global warming lull down to China's coal growth [bbc.co.uk]. While I certainly believe the earth has warmed and humans have some blame I'm HIGHLY skeptical of the media's representation of Climate Change for reasons like this.
    • by dthx1138 (833363)

      It was less that two years ago that they said that the reason warming is lower than forecasts is because of pollution in China

      RTFA. Your point was directly addressed in the story:

      "Diesel engines can spew mostly soot, but coal burning puts out both climate-warming soot and sulfur that goes on to cool the climate by reflecting solar energy back into space."

      In other words, no reversal whatsoever. The researchers simply realized that the impact of soot is much larger than previously estimated, so much so that it outweighs the potential cooling impact of sulfur emissions.

    • It was less that two years ago that they said that the reason warming is lower than forecasts is because of pollution

      Stop right there, what are you talking about: Warming has not been lower than forecast (what stinking place did you pull that from?) - Actually, one of the biggest recent meta-studies to come out on climate science showed that warming over the last 20 years has been very close to the average consensus forecasts over the last 20 years.

      • by radtea (464814)

        Actually, one of the biggest recent meta-studies to come out on climate science showed that warming over the last 20 years has been very close to the average consensus forecasts over the last 20 years.

        Then why does every single story on new work in this area appear beneath a headline announcing how badly previous work underestimated the effects?

        The answer, of course, is that the public debate about AGW has nothing to do with the science of AGW.

        The sole policy prescription the pro-AGW side have is, "Reduce CO2 emissions by any means necessary except investment in nuclear power, even if a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that it is infeasible to the point of causing hundreds of millions of premature

  • Northeastern Ohio winter weather is often too damn cold anyway. If such a "global warming" tames winter weather and extends the growing season, then I'll be the last one to complain.

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