[This is a partial working script for the broadcast/podcast. It does not include added comments, music, and over 5 minutes of audio clips from various sources, such as NPR, the Scripps Institute, and Dr. Joel Schwarz. Blog readers can hear the full 19 minute program by clicking the title above. Or listen/download the show at:
What is global dimming? We go to the discoverer of the Asian Brown Cloud, Veerabhadran Ramanthan, in this except from the film “Oceans and Air” produced by the Scripps Institute, University of California, Davis. It’s part of a series called Scripps Explorations 2005, as found on Google Video. The whole film, including a segment on un-manned ocean research is half an hour. Despite the famously boring background music, and the standard educational announcer’s voice, Ramanthan himself explains key understandings about climate change.
We learn how brown clouds of a huge carbonated cloud, from agriculture, home cooking, and out-dated coal technologies, forms over Asia, especially over Pakistan, India, and now China. This mass blows over the Pacific until, Ramanthan says, quote, “up to 50 percent of the black carbon over the California Coast, and much of the American West Coast, is coming from Asia.”
This mass of brown clouds – and there are others, such as the one over the East Coast of America – reduces the amount of sunlight hitting the surface of the Earth. it’s called Global Dimming, and it may be hiding the true impact of global warming gases. As James Lovelock suggests, if this wisp of polluted clouds were to disappear overnight, the world’s climate might change precipitously. That may already be happening – the world is getting slightly brighter, due to partial reductions of smog in the West, and the reduced industrial activity in the former Soviet Union.
You can find out more about the project by going to www.scripps.ucsd.edu.
Dr. Ramanthan is the director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002, as one of the pioneers of the atmosphere and climate.
Ramanthan was educated in Bangalore, India until attending the University of New York. A study of the atmosphere of Venus, that burning hot planet, led to his Doctorate. He joined a team of scientists at NASA, and studied the impacts of chlorofleurocarbons – CFCs – and the ozone hole. While researchers had long suspected excess carbon dioxide could change the planet’s temperature, Ramanthan found CFCs were 10,000 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
That led to a Pandora’s Box of added greenhouse gases to consider, from methane to trace gases previously believed to be harmless. In 1987, he chaired the World Meteorological Organizations report into the importance of these other gases in global warming. It made the whole subject more complex, and more difficult for the average person to understand. It also made the computer climate models work.
Given the known amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, these sophisticated computer projections routinely suggested the planet should be hotter than it was. Something must be cooling, or shading the Earth.
It seem obvious now the answer is smog, but no one could believe that industrialized humans could create new clouds, large enough to cover significant parts of the Earth. Ramanthan began with a study of sunlight reaching the surface, and found that even in places far from factories, such as the Maldive Islands, sunlight was significantly reduced. He was one of several scientists finding that sunlight dropped at least 2 percent per decade since the 1950’s. Our pollution made the sun less effective for plant life, and blurred our view of the stars.
Dust is small but mighty.
It’s falling on the Rocky Mountains, and the Himalayas, causing early snow melts followed by low river, and drought.
[BC9][NPR clip on Asian and American dust storms causing fast, early snow melts in the Rockies, leading to floods in Spring, then drought thereafter.]
Dust from volcanoes, or astroid stikes, may have killed the dinosaurs. Will it kill us? Or keep us alive a little longer?
Satellite images from space show large seasonal brown cloud banks covering parts of North America, sections of China, and the whole Northern part of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.
The brown smear over India, reaching up into the atmosphere, was called the Asian Brown Cloud. It was loaded with sulphates from industry and coal burning, and loaded with soot, from agricultural burning, and from the primitive cooking fires of a billion people on the Indian sub-continent. To see a satellite picture of it, go to wikipedia.org and search for “particulate.”
For political correctness, it’s been re-named the Atmospheric Brown Cloud, or just ABC, but during the winter months it’s still there. And prevailing winds carry this mass of pollution right across the Pacific Ocean to South America, and the whole West Coast of North America.
That means pollution in Los Angeles cannot be solved by California laws. It’s a global problem.
[BC6][Dr. Ramanthan explaining how up to 50% of smog in Calfornia, and the whole West Coast, comes from Asia, especially from India.]
The discovery of Asian pollution has been turned into a prize for certain oil cartels, and their client governments, resisting reductions of fossil fuels. Why should America reduce greenhouse gases under Kyoto, when the Indians aren’t force to clean up their big brown cloud? As a developing country, India was left out of the Kyoto carbon rules.
You’ll find this argument used by every right-wing think tank and coal lobbyist fighting Kyoto. One murderer says “I won’t stop killing – because that other guy is doing it, too!”
Doesn’t that throw a strange twist on the undeniably important work of Dr. Ramanthan and the Scripps Institute?
Listen to this: [BC10][U.S. spending]
That’s right. The Bush government is spending millions of dollars, building 12 Brown Cloud Observatories, buying planes, a ship, – just to show how much those other people are polluting way over there. It puts the responsibility for change on the billion poorest people, instead of the people who could just buy a more fuel efficient car, and turn out the lights when they leave the room. Sounds fair, don’t you think?
Meanwhile, China is pumping out it’s own great brown lumps of atmosphere.
[BC1][sunlight reaching the surface of China has dropped by at least 10% over the last couple of decades.]
And America doesn’t smell so sweet either.
[BC8][giant brown layer of smog visible from space over Eastern North America in summer – Dr. Joel Schwartz of Harvard.]
And the Brits and Germans love their dirty coal power.
Still… the bottom line: when the climate tips into unlivable territory, it won’t matter who did it. Somehow, humanity, all of it, has to change course or die.
Meanwhile, evidence is pouring in: dust kills. Forget 9/11, smog kills 20 to 50 thousand Americans, at least 200,000 Europeans, and millions around the world, each and every year. We even know how they die, thanks to research by the Harvard Medical team headed by Dr. Joel Schwartz. Essentially, when smog levels are up, more people die from heart disease before they get to hospital. Dead on arrival. Then there’s the asthma and the cancer. You can find Dr. Schwartz’s full speech at www.ecoshock.org, in the Climate section of Audio on Demand. Find out for yourself.
Aside from mere humans, the giant plume of civilization’s dust is bending the climate in strange ways. Dr. Ramanthan was able to show the Asian Brown Cloud lowered rainfall. It was one cause of recent droughts, and mis-timed or missing Monsoons on the Indian Subcontinent. The accumulation of soot, chemicals, and dust in the atmosphere appear to reduce the formation of raindrops. Blowing over the Pacific, this atmospheric river of pollution may be contributing to the drought in the former Amazonian Rainforest, and even the growing deserts of Africa, and China.
At the same time, the brown clouds have shaded the Earth, hiding some of the impact of accumulating Greenhouse Gases.
Ramanthan told science writer Regina Nuzzo,
“By sheer, dumb luck, we are adding particles that are trapping sunlight and cooling the planet.”
He compares it to a mask – and if that pollution is removed, the climate may suddenly rise to the real levels of warming gases in the atmosphere.
“Many of us, including myself, are concerned we could see a huge acceleration of global warming if we unmask the beast.”
Lots of scientists have this lurking nightmare when they turn off the soothing churn of social chatter.
Yet, air pollution can’t be used as a tool to fight climate change. Millions are being killed by it. Just like you, my own health is being damaged, daily, by air particles I can’t see, entering my lungs. and arteries. [Cough]
(Pardon me, while I turn up my HEPA air filter….)
Meanwhile, the brown mask of pollution IS falling away. The Western world has slowly reduced smog. The former Soviet Union, a champion of dirty production, has dropped it’s smokestack emissions, along with its faltering economy.
In this new century, scientists are finding the sunlight is measurably returning in strength, regaining power lost to smog in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.
Will the unabated growth of dirty industry in Asia produce a temporary climate peace?
Not likely. Particulates like soot and sulphates only last a few weeks in the atmosphere. They can be washed out by rain. Meanwhile, carbon builds inexorably in the atmosphere, year by year. Carbon can last a hundred years. As long as we keep polluting with fossil fuels, and other greenhouse gases, we can only lose the game. When the feeble clouds wash away, the blanket of un-natural gases will trap the sun’s power, inside the Earth’s greenhouse.
That’s the end of the race. Unless we turn away, and soon.
This report is from Radio Ecoshock, the Net’s only all-environment radio station at www.ecoshock.org. It’s free, non-stop information about your planet, so tune in.
And keep an ear out for our new one hour weekly radio show on CFRO 102.7 FM in Vancouver, Canada. That will be posted on our site for WEB listening, starting September 22nd, and running every Friday from 1 to 2pm.
We’ll talk then.