Saturday, 9 July 2011

Sulphur, so good

Some time ago, I speculated that there had been a pause in global warming over the last decade because of unusually low solar activity. It appears there was another factor. Michael McCarthy reported in the Indy yesterday:

The great paradox of the Noughties was that, as the climate science became clearer, and the political engagement with it became greater, actual manifestations of warming seemed, to ordinary people anyway, to get fewer and fewer.
Now, thanks to a study by Robert Kaufman of Boston University and others, just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , we know why. The colossal, explosive surge in industrial expansion in China during the Noughties, powered by burning coal in power stations, which turned the Chinese into the world biggest CO2 emitters, did not just emit carbon, it emitted vast quantities of sulphur as well; and the consequent sulphur aerosol has cooled the world's climate, just like Pinatubo did except for longer, cancelling out the warming effects of the increased CO2.

The Chinese are moving rapidly to more sustainable means of power generation, and the growing influence of public opinion may force the authorities to curb the burning of low-grade coal. So Kaufman's theory may soon be put to the test.

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