Black carbon – the silent killer



Black carbon - tiny particulate of soot created from the incomplete combustion of diesel fuels, cook stoves, some industrial processes, and from agricultural and forest burning. It can cause serious health issues and is a leading cause of childhood deaths in the developing world.

Helping developing nations eliminate black carbon would be quick and easy, argued numerous scientists and experts that appeared before the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, last week.

'Black carbon packs a powerful punch when it comes to climate change, absorbing solar radiation while in the atmosphere and also darkening the surfaces of snow and ice, contributing to increased melting in vulnerable regions such as the Arctic and Himalayas,' said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), in a press release from the IGSD.

Scientists are concerned for large glacial areas, like the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau, because an increase in melting could create floods and monsoons in the areas that these glacial deposits feed.

IGSD director, Zaelke, stated that black carbon can be dealt with easily through existing technologies, and getting soot out of the way early on will give scientists more time to deal with CO2 in the atmosphere.

He told legislators that developing countries such as India, where respiratory illness is the fourth leading cause of death, and China would benefit the most from the widespread use of simple technologies that can deal effectively with black carbon.

According to World Health Organization estimates, black carbon's impact on public health is profound: 1.5 million lives are lost to respiratory, heart and other soot-related harm every year.

Diesel-particulate filters for vehicles can reduce around 90 per cent of black carbon emissions on their own, and clean burning cook stoves are easy to supply. Both would have a large impact, says the IGSD.

'We already have the technologies needed to achieve deep reductions,' said Congressman Edward Markey, who chaired the meeting. 'Developing and installing technologies would create jobs and move us forward in the clean energy economy.'

'Policy-makers are beginning to take note of black carbon and other short-term climate forcers,' said Zaelke. 'These 'fast-action' strategies are the low-hanging fruit that need to be picked now to avoid the dangerous near-term consequences of abrupt climate change.'

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