Feeds

Soot, hydrofluorocarbs 'low-hanging fruit' to fight warming

Federal boffins insist heat tree be picked bare, though

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

'Without the Montreal Protocol, human warming would already be 50 per cent stronger'

Ramanathan and Xu advocate no such plan, however. Instead they say that easy soot reduction should be used to counterbalance planet-warming sulphates cuts; regulations on the two classes of aerosols should be linked in "warming-neutral" pollution laws. Thus as China, for instance, cleans up its sulphate-spewing coal stations it should also cut soot emissions, producing neither a warming nor cooling effect overall.

They also advocate another plan which they see as "low hanging fruit", that of measures to eliminate short-lived but powerful greenhouse gases such as methane and certain hydrofluorocarbons.

The two boffins note that the hydrofluorocarbon measures in particular should be achievable, as they wouldn't be much more troublesome than the ones agreed in the Montreal Protocol of 1987. Quite apart from preserving the ozone layer and preventing worldwide skin-cancer, Ramanathan and Xu calculate that the Montreal chlorofluorocarbon cuts have also saved somewhere between 0.6 and 1.6 watts/m2 of warming: without Montreal, the warming effect of human-generated greenhouse gases would now be as much as 50 per cent more powerful*.

Soot, methane and hydrocarbon measures alongside sulphate controls would mean, according to the two scientists' calculations, that atmospheric CO2 would only need to be stabilised at 441 parts per million (ppm). It currently stands at 389-odd and counting, with many of the world's billions still fantastically energy-poor and keen to start burning fossils like the rich nations; so stopping at 441 is a big ask ("Herculean", according to Ramanathan and Xu).

However this is a rosier picture than that painted by the more Cassandra-esque analysts like Hansen, who has stated - before he acknowledged the significance of soot, though - that 350 ppm will be enough to melt all the planet's ice and trigger runaway, civilisation-wrecking heating.

According to Ramanathan and Xu things could be even better, as their analysis assumes only present-day, well-known technologies in use for tackling soot, methane and hydrofluorocarbons. As none of these things have been a major priority so far, they think that better kit could be developed and bigger impacts obtained - conceivably, if the 441 ppm line can be held, cutting warming by 2050 to 1.5 °C or less, well inside the Copenhagen safe zone.

Of course, the relatively easy soot/methane/hydrofluorocarbon package could be pursued as an alternative to CO2 cuts rather than a complement to them: Ramanathan and Xu don't even mention such a possibility, but its obviousness is likely to make them somewhat unpopular in hard-green circles nonetheless.

The scientists' paper, The Copenhagen Accord for limiting global warming: Criteria, constraints, and available avenues, is published here by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (subscription required). ®

Bootnotes

*"The blanket of man-made GHGs has already added 3 (range: 2.6–3.5) watts/m2," the scientists write.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.