The picture is of “an electron microscope image showing a particle of Black Carbon soot” (from NASA). This guest article is cross-posted from Cruel Mistress‘s Dr. Benjamin Hale, assistant professor in the Philosophy Department and the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Of the many interesting venues offering side events, I’ve been most impressed by some of the events put on by the Bellona Foundation. You can actually stream and watch some of these events here. It’s a noisy little spot, so be warned. I’ll just give you a taste here of what a side event is like. Here’s video from the event on black carbon.
The upshot of the event is that polar and alpine regions are warming rapidly, so watching what’s going on in Russia is important. Moreover, since the arctic makes up one of the largest regions in Russia, watching black carbon is not just extremely important, it’s extremely important to Russia.
Pam Pear of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative and Elena Kobets from the Bellona Foundation noted that rapid reduction in CO2 emissions is vital to slowing arctic warming, but that simply reducing CO2 is not enough. It is prudent also to pay attention to the role of land use. In this case, black carbon (or soot, basically) plays an warming role as well, since when the black carbon lays over white snow, the carbon absorbs more light and thereby exacerbates the melting.
What then causes carbon on the snow? It results from a variety of activities, but mostly from agricultural burning and from forest fires, even though transportation, power, and industry also create this soot effect. Notably, of the forest fires creating black soot, approximately 97% begin from reckless agricultural burning. To make matters worse, underground peat fires caused by above-ground agricultural fires add to the black soot effect by emitting more greenhouse gases. (Click through the slideshow at the video stream to see graphs of this effect.)
So what we’re really talking about here is “agricultural burning,” which is a common farming practice in Russia. Indeed, the demographic data illustrates that a heavy portion of black carbon emissions can be attributed to agricultural burning in Russia itself. A smaller number of agricultural fires are started in the US and Canada, though some burning does happen in North America as well.
The team presented several proposals to help remedy this problem. One proposal is to encourage the passage of a domestic Russian law prohibiting, restricting, or at least monitoring agricultural burning. To date, there is no such law. The international community can help by applying pressure.
Secondly, the academic community could become involved in identifying the problem and devising solutions. This could occur at the scientific level, in identifying sources and causes of the problem; but it could also occur at the cultural or sociological level, since agricultural burning is partly an unjustified cultural practice.
Finally, it would help to export agricultural savvy and technology to those agricultural regions of Russia where such burning is taking place. It is a widely held view, apparently, that agricultural burning melts the permafrost and the loosens the soil, thereby making planting easier; but this can be shown in other arctic agricultural environments to be false. Knowledge sharing and capacity building could go a long way.
JR: Sharply reducing black carbon would also have significant health benefits (see “The Lancet medical journal: Cutting greenhouse gas emissions has major direct health benefits“).
- Is it just too damn late? Part 1, the Science
- Arctic Research Center: The underwater permafrost is melting and releasing methane
- Breaking News – Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss
- Tundra 3: Forests and fires foster feedbacks
- Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return
- The permafrost won’t be perma for long, Part 1