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The paradox that is fueling climate change

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The paradox that is fueling climate change

No good deed goes unpunished, and that includes trying to stop climate change. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, humanity will spew out fewer planet-cooling aerosols: tiny particles of pollution that act like tiny umbrellas to bounce some of the sun’s energy back into space.

“Even more important than this direct reflection effect is that they alter the properties of the clouds,” says Øivind Hodnebrog, a climate researcher at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, Norway. “In essence, they make the clouds brighter and the clouds reflect sunlight back into space.”

So, as governments better regulate air quality and implement renewable energy and electric vehicles, we will get less warming because there will be fewer insulating emissions into the sky, but some additional warming because we have lost some of the reflective pollution. What’s new in Hodnebrog investigation suggests that this aerosol effect has already contributed to a significant amount of warming.

The most important component of fossil fuel pollution is gaseous sulfur dioxide, which forms aerosols in the atmosphere that remain for only a few days. Therefore, drastically reducing pollution has an almost immediate effect, unlike carbon dioxide, which remains for centuries in the atmosphere.

It’s a twisted and inevitable dead end, but it’s in no way a reason to continue polluting whether you like it or not. Fossil fuel aerosols kill millions of people a year contributing to respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. So, by decarbonizing we will improve both planetary and human health. The urgency grows by the day: last year was by far the hottest ever recorded, and this March was the Tenth consecutive month to reach all-time highs. Meanwhile, ocean temperatures, driven by El Niño, the warm band of water that periodically rises in the Pacific that also adds heat to the atmosphere, have soared and maintained record levels for more than a year, surprising scientists. .

“The preponderance of those records and the margins by which they were broken was eye-opening,” says Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. “Until society manages to stop increasing the greenhouse gas blanket, unprecedented phenomena like those of 2023 will be more common, even without the boost of El Niño.”

The growth of that insulating blanket is already slowing. “We seem to be flattening greenhouse gas emissions, which is good,” says Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth. “But we are also discovering some warming that our pollution had historically been masking. And so our models were expecting (and we seem to be starting to see) some evidence of an acceleration in the rate of surface warming.” This is known in climate science as acceleration. family Guy points to data that shows That since 1970, the rate of warming was 0.18 degrees Celsius per decade, which has increased to about 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade in the last 15 years.

In his new article, published in the magazine Earth and Environment Communications, Hodnebrog and his colleagues set out to quantify the effect that reducing aerosols has had. To start, they collected measurements between 2001 and 2019 from the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, satellite instruments that detect the difference between solar energy reaching our planet and the energy reflected back into space. This is the Earth’s overall “energy imbalance,” trending upward as the world warms.

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