Monday, June 24, 2013

Cleaning Up Diesel Trucks and Cooking Stoves Could Reduce Climate Change

Cleaning Up Diesel Trucks and Cooking Stoves Could Reduce Climate Change

By Kevin Bullis on June 18, 2013

Cutting our overall use of fossil fuels has proved a daunting challenge, but it might be possible to get some relief from the effects of climate change by selectively reducing the particulate pollution we produce. Recent research suggests that if we can clean up diesel engines and primitive cookstoves in India and China, for example, that could delay the effects of greenhouse-gas buildup even if pollution from coal-fired power plants persists. 

A study released last week concludes that if every country were to do what California has done in the last couple of decades to clean up diesel emissions, it would slow down global warming by 15 percent. Reducing similar pollution from sources such as ships and cookstoves—which weren’t included in the study—could help even more.

The study comes as governments in India and China are deciding how to address their increasing pollution, which can contribute to fatal human health problems. Over the weekend, state-controlled media in China announced new pollution rules targeting both power plants and emissions from cars and trucks.

Aerosol pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, soot, and ozone are all bad for human health, but they have different effects on the climate. “Some of the aerosols are warming the planet, and some are cooling the planet,” says Phil Rasch, a fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. For example, sulfates that form from coal-plant exhaust reflect sunlight back into space, acting to shade the planet and cool it off. Black-carbon particles from diesel exhaust, on the other hand, absorb sunlight and heat up, warming the atmosphere.

“When you add them together, we think that on balance they’re cooling the planet,” Rasch says. That is, they mask some of the temperature increase that would have occurred as a result of carbon dioxide emissions, the main human contribution to global warming. But this effect would be more significant if the particulates that help heat up the atmosphere were removed. “If we could get rid of the ones that are warming the planet,” he says, “then that would buy us some more time.”

Comment by Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Excellent article. In a thought provoking article,’ The shocking truth’ The Hindu 23 June,Kalpana Sharma brought out clearly on the ills of Traditional Chulhas,"While the daily search for cooking fuel increases the amount of work women have to do every day, they come home and literally line their lungs with poison when they light their stoves. Women, children and the elderly sit in poorly ventilated rooms as traditional chulhas using firewood and cow dung belch out poisonous fumes. The chulhas are not just inefficient, in that they use more fuel to generate less energy, but are also dangerous because of the smoke they emit.

In the1970s and 1980s, there were many different efforts made to introduce smokeless chulhas into village homes. This effort was the result of growing awareness of the health impact of indoor pollution on women. But these campaigns slipped on to backburner. Surveys suggested that the smokeless chulhas were not being accepted. Instead of investigating why this was so, the efforts were slowed down.

Of late, there has been a renewed push for smokeless chulhas. But this is being fuelled by the realisation that soot from millions of wood fires is contributing to global warming. So there are funds available now for introducing more efficient chulhas that can work on cleaner fuels".

Stove experts such as Serrar tend to mention the suffering environment first. Every day, these stoves’ three billion users burn 1kg of biomass apiece, releasing a total of 6 billion kg of carbon dioxide —three times that released by all the private cars in the US daily, and thus a generous contributor to global warming. But the stove can injure its user’s health as much as the planet’s. In a February 2008 paper, Esther Duflo and Michael Greenstone, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Poverty Action Lab, noted that “women and children who congregate near cooking stoves are exposed to pollution levels unheard of in the developed world”. This pollution consists of carbon monoxide, but also of minuscule particles of soot that can ignite virulent cases of lung disease. In India, in the hot dome of space around a chulha, particulate matter concentrations can touch 20,000 micrograms per cu. m; the recommended limit is a mere 50. “For some of these women,” Serrar says, “it’s like smoking several packets of cigarettes a day.” Last year, a study published in The Lancet estimated that indoor air pollution—the exhalations of chulhas—causes 400,000 premature deaths every year in India.

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