I have written a great deal about my views that particulates are a significant contribution to the changes that our climate are experiencing than we understand, and my instincts seem to be borne out by research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. If the research has drawn the correct conclusions, then particulates from wood burning, diesel engines and coal burning (which create pure carbon in the form of soot) have twice more impact on our climate than previously estimated.
These particulates have several effects. They are harmful to health, they absorb sunlight and while in the atmosphere this absorption of heat warms the air, speeding the melting of ice and snow, and they diffuse light, possibly adding to a dimming effect of sunlight.
Wood burning for fuel is now subsidised in the United Kingdom, on the grounds that wood, unlike fossil fuel, is a renewable resource. For many years the voices that pointed out the global warming effects of wood burning have been ignored, as governments around the world concentrated on reducing use of fossil fuel, rather than reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and particulates.
Diesel burning, mainly for vehicles, has been falling in the developed world quite significantly as a result of diesel engines becoming more and more efficient, as a result of government legislation. However, the fall in the developed world has probably been more than compensated by the rise oin the use of diesel engines in the undeveloped world, which is becoming more and more industrialised.
Coal burning has in places like the United Kingdom, reduced over the past fifty years, but that reduction has been more than offset by massive increases in coal burning in places like China, South Africa and Australia, where coal is abundant, cheap to mine and where there is little natural gas or oil.
I am still unsure as to whether the role in climate change by coal burning has been to reduce the pace of climate change, by dimming the light with particulates or has been to accelerate it, by melting snows and ice more quickly, or a combination of both factors. That may explain why the extent of Arctic sea ice has been diminishing (because the Arctic is closer to the parts of the world where coal burning has occurred) and the extent of the Antarctic ice has not seen such a dramatic change.
What is clear is that we may be using one poison to counteract the symptoms caused by another poison, temporarily. The solution must be to use as little of either poison as possible. With six billion souls on this small planet and with most of those souls seeking to improve his or her life by more and more economic activity, particularly industrialised economic activity, humanity is bound to have an effect on its climate.
Filed under: carbon emissions, climate change, Coal, energy, global warming, petrol, pollution, renewables, weather Tagged: | Coal, coal burning, diesel, diesel burning, particulates, soot, wood burning