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Putting the Proactive Principle into Practice: The Case for Reducing Carbonaceous Aerosol Emissions in Southern Asia
Volume 8, Number 18: 4 May 2005

Climate alarmists often invoke the precautionary principle as justification for mandated reductions in anthropogenic CO2 emissions as a means of forestalling what they claim to be dangerous global warming.  Touted as an "insurance policy," their prescription is at best a huge global gamble, and at worst an unnecessary act of abnegation.  There are many other more profitable approaches that make much more sense; and we write of one of them here.

In the 4 March 2005 issue of Science, Venkataraman et al. (2005) discuss the biological and environmental impacts of carbonaceous aerosols, consisting of "soot" or black carbon (BC), which originate in Southern Asia.  They note that reducing such emissions has been identified as "an important measure to slow global warming, especially on short time scales (Jacobson, 2002, 2004)," and they note that such an ameliorative program would have a number of even more immediate human health benefits, hinting at the concept we call the proactive principle.

What is the source of the offending organic carbon emissions?  Venkataraman et al. recount how "high BC concentrations and atmospheric absorption measured during the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) have been related through trajectory analysis to source regions in the Indo-Gangetic plain, central/east coast, and south India (Neusüß et al., 2002; Franke et al., 2003)."  Focusing on this particular part of the world, they measured "carbonaceous aerosol emission factors (in terms of grams of carbon per kilogram of fuel burnt) from combustion of a variety of biofuels widely used in the south Asian region," after which they estimated their contributions to regional and global BC emissions.

So what did the team of Indian and American scientists find?  As they describe it, "the combustion of solid biofuels - such as wood, agricultural waste, and dried animal manure in cooking stoves - is the largest source of BC emissions in India."  And their subsequent recommendations?  They say that "control of these emissions through cleaner cooking technologies, in addition to reducing health risks to several hundred million users, could be of crucial importance to climate change mitigation in south Asia," where "the large radiation perturbations from aerosols (Satheesh and Ramanathan, 2003) and the resulting potential changes in tropical rainfall (Menon et al., 2002) would have important implications for agricultural productivity and the economy of the region."

Clearly, this is the most rational approach to dealing with (1) the multi-faceted problem of atmospheric compositional change (i.e., rising concentrations of black carbon, CO2 and other greenhouse gases), as well as (2) various anthropogenic assaults on the environment that may exacerbate the deleterious consequences of global warming (CO2-induced or otherwise): do what has significant immediate value in its own right.

In the case of the prime example of this editorial, this policy means replacing old ways of food preparation in India with cleaner cooking technologies that dramatically reduce the indoor concentrations of an air pollutant that adversely affects the health of hundreds of millions of people daily.  What is doubly good about this choice of actions is that it has the beneficial side-effect of reducing outdoor concentrations of the same air pollutant, which has been deemed by some to have the potential to raise havoc with the climate of the source region and possibly perturb the climate of the world as well, based on the discovery, in the words of Venkataraman et al., that "the effect of pollution particles measured over the Indian Ocean on the regional atmospheric radiation balance is about 10 times the effect of greenhouse gases (Satheesh and Ramanathan, 2000)."

An example of the second type of application of this proactive principle is our long-expressed contention that directly dealing with the wide range of local human impacts on coral reefs may well enable them to better withstand whatever thermal stress may be imposed upon them by global warming (see our Editorials of 1 Jan 1999, 19 Sep 2001, 26 Mar 2003, 29 Sep 2004, and 6 Oct 2004).  In fact, by looking beyond the mark and squandering precious time and resources in thinking we can alter global climate to suit our will, we will likely avoid doing what we really need to do to solve many pressing problems that we clearly have the both ability and the responsibility to solve.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

References
Franke, K., Ansmann, A., Müller, D., Althausen, D., Venkataraman, C., Reddy, M.S., Wagner, F. and Scheele, R.  2003.  Optical properties of the Indo-Asian haze layer over the tropical Indian Ocean.  Journal of Geophysical Research 108: 10.1029/2002JD002473.

Jacobson, M.Z.  2002.  Control of fossil-fuel particulate black carbon and organic matter: possibly the most effective method of slowing global warming.  Journal of Geophysical Research 107: 10.1029/2001JD001376.

Jacobson, M.Z.  2004.  Climate response of fossil fuel and biofuel soot: accounting for soot's feedback to snow and sea ice albedo and emissivity.  Journal of Geophysical Research 109: 10.1029/2004JD004945.

Menon, S., Hansen, J., Nazarenko, L. and Luo, Y.  2002.  Climate effects of black carbon aerosols in China and India.  Science 297: 2250-2253.

Neusüß, C., Gnauk, T., Plewka, A., Herrmann, H. and Quinn, P.K.  2002.  Carbonaceous aerosol over the Indian Ocean: OC/EC fractions and selected specifications from size-segregated onboard samples.  Journal of Geophysical Research 107: 10.1029/2001JD000327.

Satheesh, S.K. and Ramanathan, V.  2000.  Large differences in tropical aerosol forcing at the top of the atmosphere and Earth's surface.  Nature 405: 60-63.

Venkataraman, C., Habib, G., Eiguren-Fernandez, A., Miguel, A.H. and Friedlander, S.K.  2005.  Residential biofuels in South Asia: Carbonaceous aerosol emissions and climate impacts.  Science 307: 1454-1456.