Dirty Chinese coal to save us all?
Other scientists have recently suggested that it's not just the Arctic which is subject to aerosol effects. Boffins from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have said that aerosol levels from dust storms and volcanoes alone would account for as much as 70 per cent of the temperature rise seen in the Atlantic ocean during the past 26 years, leaving carbon simply nowhere.
Shindell's new NASA study is particularly topical, as President Obama's new science advisor has just suggested that the subject of "geoengineering" - artificially modifying the climate - must be considered as a countermeasure to global warming. One measure put forward by geoengineering advocates is the deliberate injection of sulphur particulates into the atmosphere.
There might not even be any need for action on the part of the West, with China building sulphur-belching coal power stations and diesel vehicles at a furious rate in recent times. Dr Shindell doesn't say so, but it's at least possible that this has something to do with the fact that global temperatures have actually dipped slightly over the last couple of years.
Meanwhile Dr Shindell's position at NASA's Goddard Institute in New York must now be a potentially stressful one. His boss, Dr James Hansen, is more or less the father of the carbon-driven global warming menace. He won't be pleased at the suggestion that carbon emissions may not be such an overriding concern after all. Dr Hansen has even gone so far as to travel to the UK, to add his weight to protests against the Kingsnorth coal plant.
There are of course many arguments against a deliberate policy of sulphate emissions. They cause acid rain, for one thing: the original anti-sulphur regs weren't introduced just for fun. But the appearance of aerosols at the front of the climate-science stage does indicate that the issue isn't simple, and that environmental policies can have unforeseen and unexpected effects.
The goal of simply cutting CO2 emissions by any means possible might have to be reconsidered somewhat: Shindell's research, backed by other recent studies, suggests that it might be a lot more cost-effective to tackle emissions of black-carbon aerosols. Filtering soot from exhausts would be hugely easier than capturing and sequestering CO2, building a fully wind/electric Blighty or other ambitious eco-schemes.
"There's still a lot more that we need to sort out," says Shindell, in understated style.
From the peanut gallery...
As a card carrying member of the "Global Warming is a Hoax Department", let me gladly add my "I told you so" to the growing list.
What I hope no one will miss out of this article, and others that discuss GW findings, is that it PAINFULLY obvious that no one has a blithering-idiot's idea of what is actually going on. Despite the thoughtful replies from Reg readers that surely sound informed and astute on the matter, I would love for someone in the scientific community to finally admit that they don't have much more than a hypoothesis and certainly don't have enough data to back the bloody thing up! Setting aside my tongue-in-cheek admission from the start, I really tire of the debate, given the complete lack of certainty that these sorts of announcements portray.
I'd prefer to think of scientists as smart, analytical, carbon compute units instead of the warm-blooded, average, fallible people they actually are, but sadly, reality isn't quite so. Can't we all get along?
Mine's the one with the built-in, anti-GW, aerosol dispensers.
SOMONE PLEASE MAKE THEIR FUCKING MIND UP
I'm no scientist, haven't read the research and don't support either side of the GW debate, but I would think this research actually strengthens the CO2 related GW argument at least a little.
The far bigger question in my mind is: aside from the fanciful doomsday predictions the GW naysayers punt about, given the extremely complex nature of global climate, can they really predict with any certainty what will happen if GW is allowed to continue. Can they actually prove if GW is a bad thing or not?
Surely if the average global temp goes up, the equatorial tropical band will expand (there is geological evidence to suggest that the tropical band has been much larger at various stages in the past - besides, who doesn't like tropical weather). This would also have a number of knock on effects
a) increased water vapor in the air (what impact would this have on sea levels?)
b) more water vapor means increased cloud cover
c) increased cloud cover would help balance global temp
This was somewhat evident on a map I saw earlier this year (sorry don't have a reference) that plotted divergence from the average temps on a localized basis around Australia for the summer just finished. The most striking thing about it was the the temps were well below average for the tropical and sub tropical northern areas of Australia, while in the temperate southern areas temps were well above average (record breaking in some areas).
While I'm all for reducing harmful pollutants (for the sake of our health) and replanting trees (to reduce salinity, soil erosion, and harmful nutrient runoff), I still want these scientists to put forward some credible models that show why GW is necessarily a bad thing.