If I feel a strain this week, it's not because of the volcano blowing planes out of the sky over Europe.  Unless the larger Icelandic volcano nearby goes off, scientists say the dangerous ash will not really cool the planet much.  It may damage our economy more in the short run. 


But the biggest-ever suspension of air travel reduced carbon emissions for a few days, and taught a few people how to take a train, or use video-conferencing.  Every cloud has a silver lining.


No, my worry is about this week's program.  All I have is an interview with a top scientist, a recording of Congressional testimony, and a reading from James Hansen's latest book.


Sounds less exciting than a volcano, or Tiger's latest mistress expose...


But wait, what if I told you half of the recent ice melt in the Arctic was not caused by extra greenhouse heat?  What if rivers running dry, and people dying by the millions, all came from the same cause?


Did you know there is fast-warming, and slow warming?  That smog could be heating and hiding warming at the same time?  So much, that we could experience a permanent burst of heat, taking us past the 2 degree safety mark, in just a matter of days?


Science can be way ahead of Hollywood when it comes to danger and mystery.  Welcome to the Radio Ecoshock special on BLACK CARBON.


It is as evil as it sounds.  Black carbon comes from incomplete combustion.  It happens naturally from forest fires - although some of the great fires are not so natural.  Warming has already shifted rainfall patterns and brought earlier dryness - from Australia to California to Greece and Africa.


A lot of black carbon comes from diesel engines - the highway trucks, public buses, construction equipment, generators and trains.  These particles are too small to see.  Photo blow ups reveal diesel carbon looking like tiny meteorites, with rough surfaces and pock-marks.  Those surfaces get coated with pesticides and other toxic chemicals, making it directly past our body defenses, into our blood streams.  You can find out more in my Radio Ecoshock special for April 25th, 2008 "Highway to Hell, How Smog Kills".  Grab that free from our archives at ecoshock.org.


The short story is low-level smog greatly raises the number of heart attacks.  As Dr. Joel Schwartz of Harvard reveals, patients die quickly in their homes, or on the streets, DOA before they reach the hospital.  This happens all over the world.


But black carbon haze goes much higher than our office towers.  It floats up into the atmosphere, browning out the Sun - over New England in the Summer, over the West Coast cities, over the whole of Pakistan and Northern India, over much of China.  And, as we'll learn today, these dark particles absorb heat directly from the Sun, helping to overheat the world.


The haze also reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth, reaching our crops, by as much as 10 percent.  A huge loss of agricultural productivity.


Even when they land, most often collecting on mountains, and in the Arctic, black carbon speeds up melting of snow and ice.  That change of Albedo adds to warming, and the abnormal run-off adds to both drought inland, and rising seas everywhere.


And strangest of all, we could probably fix the black carbon problem comparatively cheaply.  But if we fix it quick, the climate could suddenly turn on us, heating up the world.  Damned if we do, and damned if we don't.  Welcome to the ironic universe.


I'm Alex Smith.  Let's find out about black carbon, before it kills us.


READ MORE (including a quick summary of expert testimony on black carbon to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Representative Ed Markey.  A reading from James Hansen's new book "Storms of Our Grandchildren".  And clips of what the world's biggest coal companies told Congress about global warming.


One of the scientists called to testify was Tami Bond, an expert in black carbon.


[Tami Bond interview, audio only 17 min]




Black carbon.  What is it?  On March 16th, a Congressional Committee held a hearing called "Clearing the Smoke: Understanding the Impacts of Black Carbon Pollution."  That was the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Chaired by Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat.


You can download the full hour and a half discussion, with the latest science and public policy options, as two free mp3 files, at our web site, ecoshock.org.  Look for the audio-on-demand menu on our home page, and choose "Climate Solutions" to find these committee recordings.


Part 1 45 minutes, 10 megabytes is here.


Part 2 42 minute here.


Our time is short, so here are the bulletin points you need to know, from this hour and a half of discussion with top scientists. 


1. Surprisingly, both Democrats and Republicans agree on the risks, and need for action on black carbon.  Republican Rep Jim Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, thinks quick action on black carbon can and should be done, because it doesn't risk the economy, as action on CO2 would...that's partly because, he says, quote "most of the world's black carbon is produced in Asia" and "it would be a lot cheaper to buy stoves for developing nations than to implement draconian regulations on CO2"


... and that is the problem, Republicans want Asia to act, while avoiding regulation of the fossil fuel industry at home.


1(a) Scientist Tami Bond says a team of scientists will report on black carbon this June.  Here is a You tube video of her initial statement.


2. Scientist V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution outlined how black carbon directly impacts the water budget of the planet. (by changing cloud formation, impacting the monsoons, causing earlier snow melt in from Himalayas to Rockies, and causing more snow and ice melt in the Arctic.)


3. Ramanathan testified black carbon causes anywhere from 20 to 60 % of the warming brought on by carbon dioxide.  It is possible that half the warming impacts experienced so far are really from black carbon.


4. Again, Ramanathan tells us: the weight of man-made carbon dioxide is a staggering 880 billion tons, while black carbon is a miniscule 250,000 tons.  Even that small amount has almost half the effect of CO2, Ramanathan believes.


5. We are adding about 35 gigatons of CO2 every year, growing at a rate 2-3%.  At this rate, CO2 could double by 2100.


6. Finally, Ramanathan explains that black carbon science-in-the-making, it is so new, compared to CO2 study.  That is why the public is so unaware of this problem.


7. Black carbon impacts depend on models.  There is no direct measurement yet.  Scientist Drew Shindell of NASA puts the range at 15 to 55 % of warming caused by CO2 - but quote, "even larger in the Arctic, due to it's strong impact on snow and ice."


8. Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director, Clean Air Task Force, estimates in the U.S. alone, diesel particulates will cause over 21,000 premature deaths this year.


9. We learn the EPA is studying black carbon, is supposed to report back about a year from now, in 2011.


10. Filters are available today, that can trap up to 90% of black carbon pollution from diesels; there are "over 11 million diesel engines in use today without filters" in the U.S - and hundreds of millions globally.


Current U.S. regulations will take decades to clean up diesel pollution if ever.  Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has only the authority to regulate 1 million of the 11 million diesels out there, in the U.S.  The Clean Air act only allowed stricter emissions when an engine is rebuilt.  And only 1 million are expected to be rebuilt in the next decade.  Still, fixing that million would be equivalent of removing 21 million cars from the road.  EPA has that authority, but is still studying whether to exercise it.  That is,  nothing is being done with that authority.


11. We learn from Conrad Schneider, that various bills are available, from Waxman Markey to the Transportation Act, but not much is really happening.  The Waxman Markey bill proposes foreign aid for cook stoves, because "half the people on Earth use inefficient cook stoves." 


As Dr. Ramanathan can relate from his own family experience in India, it is not enough to parachute in better stoves.  There are cultural resistances that have to be overcome, to allow people to actually use them.  People prefer "the old ways" and may think food from old stoves tastes better...like "smoked" food.  For example, as Ramanathan says, 150 million households use stoves made of mud, burning cow dung and crop residues.  These people in India are highly resistant to change. 


I note there was no discussion of solar cooking in Africa or India.


12. To reduce the damage from black carbon, farm burning needs to change from the Spring to another season, because Spring is when the fall out on Arctic ice has the greatest impact.


13. Bond says health benefits of reducing black carbon are easy to see, as opposed to the long term benefits of cutting carbon dioxide.  We can improve health, and help the climate at the same time.


14. NASA's Drew Shindell says diesel particulate filters are the best investment for both health and climate


15. Dr. Ramanathan says globally, the Albedo affect of black carbon is about 10% of the total black carbon problem.  Drew Shindell adds that the impact on the Himalayas is "ambiguous," due to the large amount of other particulates, including dust.  But the impact of black carbon in the Arctic is clear.  Quote: "It's quite possible that black carbon is responsible for over half of the accelerated melting we've seen in the past few decades [in the Arctic] - or at least over the 20th Century."


And Shindell tells the Committee, quote: "Unlike CO2, which just drifts around uniformly everywhere, the black carbon being physically emitted in the Northern Hemisphere, fairly close to the Arctic, allows it to have an even stronger impact on the Arctic, than it does on the global average."


16. Here is another surprise.  Scientist Tami Bond says black carbon is NOT coming from coal burning power plants.  In America, coal power combustion is efficient enough to stop those emissions.  that is an Important point: black carbon comes from inefficient or incomplete burning, whether fossil fuels or living plant matter.


17, [In part two, at 6:53] Dr. Ramanathan suggests the successful cleanup of sulfate emissions (to stop acid rain) appeared to contribute to global warming, but really just unmasked the hidden emissions. 


18. To add to the complexity, not all black carbon is the same, says Ramanathan. Fossil fuel black carbon is worse, pound for pound, than what comes from burning biomass - and we increased our fossil fuel use, over the past 30 years.


19. The EU countries have more black carbon production from private vehicles, because there are way more light duty diesel cars and trucks in Europe, than in North America.  This hurt people's health in Europe, and adds more to both general short-term warming, and damage to the Arctic.  Mandatory particulate filters could stop those damaging emissions.


20. Likely the most effective legislation so far, to reduce heavy diesel emissions, the main source in the U.S., was $300 million for engine retrofits passed in the Recovery Act, otherwise known as the stimulus program.  But the EPA received $2 billion dollars in applications for diesel retrofits, says Schneider.  The demand for replacements and retrofits is there, but not the funding.  Fund it, and a lot of old polluting engines will be cleaned up, while creating 19,000 jobs.


The $300 million went to retrofit school buses, some municipal transit systems, and some private company equipment.


21.  Another program, called the Diesel Emission Reduction Act, or DERA, originally authorized over a billion dollars to overhaul the fleet, but has really only received funding in the $60 million dollar range annually, which means little was actually accomplished.


The Transportation Bill re-authorization is another opportunity to fund black carbon reductions, Schneider says. [in his end summation].


22  Drew Shindell says in the '90's the UK enacted a law making the emission of black smoke a punishable offence.  The City of London ended up suing the London Underground for a carbon polluting power plant - and lost when the Underground said the smoke was brown not black.  Just a funny story, because it comes from the 1890's, not the 1990's.  His point: we have known about the public health dangers of black carbon for a long time.  Acting on it now is a public health issue, even if there was no warming effect.  But Dr. Shindell says black carbon reductions do not buy us any time when it comes to climate change, because we have no time left.  We must take immediate action to reduce carbon dioxide, which lasts for centuries.


23. [19:07] Committee Chair Edward Markey says inspiration for hearing came from Dr. Ramanathan's article in Foreign Affairs, published in the September/October issue for 2009.


[ Details: Foreign Affairs

The Other Climate Changers

Jessica Seddon Wallack and Veerabhadran Ramanathan

Most initiatives to slow global warming involve reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Little attention has been given to reducing emissions of the light-absorbing particles known as "black carbon" or the gases that form ozone--even though doing so would be easier and cheaper and have a more immediate effect."]


24. Ramanathan, who is a pioneer in this new science, says two thirds of the black carbon over South Asia, (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal,) comes from burning biomass in cooking stoves.  Some initial research shows village women are tired of all the work required to cook that way.  Collecting the fuel takes up so much of their day.  They might go to gas if offered.  But, as Ramanathan points out (28:40) the biomass fuel is more sustainable and less carbon polluting than any fossil fuel.  Crop residues and cow patties recycle existing atmospheric carbon, instead of adding more CO2 from fossil storage under the Earth.  The solution is mostly just to burn the biomass better, with complete combustion.


Cost is not really the problem.  Ramanathan says the concentrated 750 million people on the Indo-Gangetic Plain constitute about 150 million households.  Replacing all those cook stoves would only cost $4 billion dollars.  Quite possible.  More difficult, is to get all those cooks to change methods, to accept the new stove technology, and the changes that might make, in the taste of traditional Indian cooking.


25. [23:16 part two] Ramanathan suggests removing one ton of black carbon could equal taking out 1000 tons of CO2, when it comes to warming.


26 Representative Emanuel Cleaver from Missouri arrives.  He tells of his visit to Tanzania, Africa - within view of Mount Kilimanjaro, where the snow is disappearing.  It is frightening when Cleaver says none of the Massai people he encountered had heard about global warming at all.  Nothing. [(at 34:35 Part two]


27. [31:10] There is no industry near Kilimanjaro, but there is smog.  Brown cloud pollution may have no local source.  These clouds when high travel thousands of kilometers.  Ramanathan says, quote: "In the dry season, between October to April, the entire Arabian Sea and the North Indian Ocean is filled with haze.  It's transported both from the South Asian side and from Africa."


28. Ramanathan cautions that all the Kilimanjaro melt not be from global heating.  It may also be caused by drying, a loss of humidity brought on by shifts in the weather systems, which we know is a result of climate change and/or warming oceans.  That is sublimation, where the snow evaporates, and may cause up to half the loss of snow on the mountain.


29.[ 33 min] Scientist Drew Shindell suggests it may not be advisable to fund black carbon reduction in the same legislation intended to reduce carbon dioxide.  Long-term emissions like CO2 draw in things like the Kyoto Treaty, and Clean Development Mechanisms.  He suggests instead a separate black carbon fund should be established.


30. [33:35 (part two)] Drew Shindell says he is Chair of a United Nations Environment program that is attempting to assess the impact on climate, of both black carbon and ozone.  We can expect to hear more from the U.N.


I'm Alex Smith.  Those were the main points, as I heard them, from a Congressional Committee called "Clearing the Smoke: Understanding the Impacts of Black Carbon Pollution."  That was the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, meeting on March 16th, 2010, and Chaired by Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat.


You can download the full hour and a half discussion, with the latest science and public policy options, as two free mp3 files, at our web site, ecoshock.org.  Look for the audio-on-demand menu on our home page, and choose "Climate Solutions" to find these committee recordings. 




We talk about coal damage to the land, water, and the atmosphere.  But few of us can call the top executives of the world's largest coal companies to say what they think about climate change.  The U.S. Congress can, and that's what happened on April 14th, 2010. 


The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming called a session with Gregory Boyce, President and Chief Executive Officer, Peabody Energy Corporation; Steven F. Leer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Arch Coal, Inc.; Preston Chiaro, Chief Executive for Energy and Minerals, Rio Tinto; and Michael Carey, President, Ohio Coal Association.


Select Committee hearings are not always worth our listening time.  Frankly, it took an hour and a half to squeeze out a few morsels from the coal company CEOs.  It was a struggle to get Gregory Boyce, President and CEO of Peabody Coal, to admit that science shows carbon emissions threaten the climate. 


And several of the politicians, from West Virginia to Colorado to Arizona, seemed like they were working for the coal companies, instead of the people.  That's the way it sounded to me.


Let's listen to a few clips.  First off Gregory Boyce of Peabody, America's largest coal company, and a world power, with massive exports from Australia as well, is explaining the importance of coal to the world, when an interruption occurs.  A protester, saying there is no "clean coal" was thrown out.


And here are the words which should frighten us all.  Peabody's Boyce says:


"So in conclusion, the real question isn't will we use coal.  The U.S. has more coal than any nation on Earth.  We have hundreds of billions of tons of coal in the U.S., trillions of tons in the world, WE WILL USE IT ALL."


Say goodnight to our friendly planet, if Peabody coal makes that come true.


Chair Ed Markey asks all the coal reps if they agree with Don Blankenship of Massey Energy, that "global warming is a hoax and a Ponzi scheme" as posted on his twitter page. 


Peabody's Boyce replies:


"Do not agree with Mr. Blankenship.  Our view is the globe's climate has been changing since the globe was formed.  Levels of CO2 have risen in the atmosphere, and we have been a strong advocate for technology advances to reduce in the atmosphere, particularly from the use of coal."


Yes, sir, somehow, CO2 has risen in the atmosphere.


The coal executives, with the exception of Mr. Preston Chiaro from Rio Tinto, kept going back to the supposed climategate email scandal, retreading the path of denial.  Chair Markey doggedly asks them if they believe climate science, or not?  No surprise, the answer from Peabody CEO Boyce skips around the subject, and then brings in all that "doubt" from the East Anglia emails.  The denial tactic.


Again, East Anglia emails mean we should pull back from any regulation of carbon, and maybe study the matter for another few decades.  Why not, we have time to burn, literally.


Finally, Peabody's Boyce agrees that CO2 is rising in the atmosphere, but doesn't admit his company, and his industry, is largely responsible.  It is like a tobacco executive saying yes people who smoke are dying (but we don't admit any responsibility for that...).  We are talking about a climate holocaust, but no one mentions that.  After two politicians helpfully add to the doubt and denial, I begin to wonder, is there anyone sane in the room, other than Ed Markey?  Yes there is, and it is Jay Inslee, Representative from Washington State.


Inslee explains that his young grandchild will probably not see living coral reefs, will find an acidic ocean, may not be able to fish for salmon, and will experience a generally damaged climate - due to the emissions from the coal industry.


None of that impresses Representative John Shadegg from coal-dependent Arizona.  Here is his quality argument, on why the coal companies are right to call for the EPA to give up trying to regulate carbon pollution.


In the Shadegg clip - he claims that if it took 18 years to develop solid global warming science, it should take almost as long to investigate that science, following the East .... oops, can't say that word, emails.  Even though Chair Markey has announced a Committee of the British Parliament has cleared the East Anglia unit, finding global warming science solid - Shadegg questions all that.  He doesn't sound too sure where the Parliament is.  A strange performance, but one well suited to the coal company line.


Mr. Shadegg, if you can't say the word "Anglia" maybe you should have practiced your denier notes ahead of time.


Getting back to the real world, we find Chairman Ed Markey making a remarkably calm plea to the coal industry, as he explains legislation designed to save their industry from oblivion, by developing carbon capture and storage.  His Waxman-Markey legislation promises $60 billion to the coal industry, to develop carbon capture and storage technology.  Without that, Markey says, the coal companies are going the route of the car companies, ignoring obvious market forces.  For example, renewable energy is fast replacing coal as the source of choice in many states.  And new natural gas discoveries in the United States (in gas shales) also threaten coal.


In fact, I find this a little unsettling, that Congress is trying to give the coal industry another 60 billion dollars, instead of just putting that money into real clean energy, while retraining the miners.  Should we save the industry that dooms us to a wrecked climate, at all?


Just another day in the life of an American Committee, as the struggle continue to pass any kind of climate legislation, anything at all, in America.  Meanwhile, for the big coal CEO's, it's back to work, and the quarterly profit statements.  And so far, nothing happens.  It is still free to fill the sky with waste exhaust.



Radio Ecoshock