Doomed Planet

Bad clean air

The Great Big Thermostat

Just when you thought it was safe to have a barbecue or put the bike away until 2013 (when Carbon Kevin promises to review the state of the planet), along comes the Los Angles Times’ environment reporter Eli Kintisch with a breath-taking new concept for all of us to contemplate and worry about — “clean air might actually intensify global warming”. 

Kintisch’s article, which got extensive coverage on America’s National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, tells us: 

You’re likely to hear a chorus of dire warnings as we approach Earth Day, but there’s a serious shortage few pundits are talking about: air pollution. 

That’s right, the world is running short on air pollution, and if we continue to cut back on smoke pouring forth from industry smokestacks, the increase in global warming could be profound. 

The concern that Kintisch raises follows the announcement that the U.S. Clean Air Act has apparently cut major air pollutants, such as sulphur aerosols, for example, by 30% to 50% since the 1980’s. Kintisch goes on to say that “as industrialised and development nations alike steadily reduce aerosol pollution — caused by primarily burning coal — climate scientists are beginning to understand just how much these tiny particles help keep the planet cool.” 

No, I’m not making this up, nor is it a piece from Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson’s Media Department. Nor is it someone doing a spoof on Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels — this is a piece from one of America’s leading newspapers. 

Kintisch goes on: “A silent benefit of sulphates, in fact, is that they’ve been helpfully blocking sunlight from striking Earth for many decades, by brightening clouds and expanding their coverage. Emerging science suggests that their under-appreciated impact has been incredible.” 

Well blow me down with a puff of carbon! 

A quick check with Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth index, under aerosols, revealed in the first mention of aerosols (page 39), the following: 

Some 74,000 years ago it became intensely cold after Indonesian volcano of Toba filled the atmosphere with dust and [wait for it], sulphuric acid aerosols. 

Ian Plimer’s book has 24 index-entries about atmospheric aerosols and their effect on climate, yet Eli Kintisch claims that scientists are “beginning to understand” how these particles cool the planet. He, and they, should read more. 

Kintisch goes on to say: “In the 1980’s, sulphate pollution dropped as Western nations enhanced pollution controls, and as a result, global warming accelerated.” He then says: 

In a recent paper in the journal Climate Dynamics, modellers forecast what would happen if nations instituted all existing pollution controls on industrial sources and vehicles by 2030.  

They found the current rate of warming — roughly 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit per decade — doubled world wide, and nearly tripled in North America. 

At this stage the average climate-novice might begin to wonder if the science is really getting anywhere near to being “settled”. But to try to get a handle on this latest “revelation” we need to consider the argument. It goes something like this: humans have caused a rise in Co2 in the atmosphere by using coal and oil which will cause catastrophic global warming, but because we have tried to cut back on coal and oil pollution we run the risk of creating more severe global warming because we are removing too many pollutants from the atmosphere. 

At first glance this all might begin to sound like a Catch 22 argument. But then again it might also sound like perhaps the original premise of climate-realists; that climate might be under the ultimate control of the sun, volcanic activity, moody ocean currents, murky air and a whole host on interchanging natural events, and that CO2, a by-product of some human activity, is incidental to any major climate shift. 

In his article, Eli Kintisch gives us another twist to the ever changing global warming plot, “black soot” or black carbon. Apparently it is “responsible for 60% more global warming above that caused by greenhouse gases. Cleaner burning diesel engines and efficient cook-stoves in the third world are the answer” — apparently. 

But here comes the really spooky part of Kintisch’s article: 

In the face of severe climate risks, credible scientists [un-named by Kintisch] are beginning to study geo-engineering — tinkering with global systems to reduce warming directly. One scheme is to spew sulphates or other sun-blocking particles miles high into the stratosphere. If it worked, it would mimic the natural cooling effect of volcanoes, replacing the near-surface sulfate [sulphate] mask with a much higher one.  

To this Frankenstein scenario Kintisch adds the warning “The potential geopolitical implications, like wars over the thermostat, could be devastating…”. Apparently he sees no real problem with the notion that scientists can now plan to interfere with the life-giving and life-creating properties of our weather, on the basis of ever expanding and ever changing theories, and that scientists are quite at liberty to do so. 

One can only wonder at this proposition being put to the next climate pantomime to be held in Mexico later this year. “Well folks, keep the coal furnaces burning, we need the pollution, but as an added safeguard we’re going to install this giant thermostat up in the stratosphere. It might go wrong … but here’s hoping!” 

Eli Kintisch has just published his book, Hack the Planet — Science’s Best Hope

Post Copenhagen is looking good!

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