Saturday, April 25, 2009

Soot/Black Carbon: Quick Climate Fix?

The chief culprit in global warming is carbon dioxide. But recent studies show that black carbon - microscopic airborne particles commonly known as soot - is also a big factor. According to a recent study, black carbon may account for as much as half of Arctic warming. Along with deep cuts in CO2, curbing black carbon is crucial for slowing Arctic and global warming, and for averting catastrophic tipping points such as the melting of sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet.

Black carbon comes from diesel engines, industrial smokestacks and residential cooking and heating stoves. Most black carbon that falls in the Arctic comes from North America, Europe and Asia. Because black carbon air pollution is also a leading cause of respiratory illness and death, controlling emissions will save lives and improve health around the world. In India alone, black carbon-laden indoor smoke is responsible for over 400,000 premature deaths annually, mostly of women and children.

The direct absorption of sunlight by black carbon heats the atmosphere. When black carbon falls on snow and ice, it reduces reflectivity and speeds up melting. The good news: Because black carbon stays in the atmosphere for only days or weeks, moving quickly to expand existing technology can be an effective rapid response to slow warming, buying critical time to achieve reductions in CO2.

Starting April 28, the nations of the Arctic Council, including the United States, will meet in Tromso, Norway, where action to slow Arctic warming such as reducing black carbon will be a major focus. The U.S. and Europe must lead on this issue by committing to stricter standards at home for diesel engines and other sources of black carbon pollution, and by committing to increased financial and technological assistance to the developing world to reduce black carbon pollution from diesel, home cooking and heating and other sources.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will send a team to represent the United States at Tromso. While she was still in the Senate, she co-sponsored a bill on black carbon and visited the Arctic to see the devastating effects of climate change first hand. Now, as her team prepares for the Arctic Council Ministerial, we must let her and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson know we understand how important it is for the United States to lead the way.

Take action to Stop Soot. To send an e-mail message to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, click on the "STOP SOOT" tab at

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