As environmentalists gear up for John Kerry, the (expected) new Secretary of State who says that American foreign policy “is defined by life-threatening issues like climate change” to be sworn in, we also say goodbye to Secretary Hillary Clinton. But while we are all hopeful for big progress over the next four years, a new study suggests that one of Clinton’s environmental legacies might have a big impact.
This new study, issued last week by The Journal of Geophysical Research:Atmospheres, identifies black carbon (found in soot and produced by diesel engines, forest fires, and cooking fires and coincidentally also a huge public health risk) as a larger contributor to global warming than previously calculated. Like, a lot more- as much as three times more! While it is scary to learn that anything we putting into the atmosphere is causing MORE climate change than we originally thought, it’s also potentially pretty heartening. Carbon dioxide is going to stay in our atmosphere and continue to heat the planet for years and years to come. Black carbon, on the other hand, only stays in the atmosphere for days or weeks. This means by reducing black carbon, we can have an immediate impact as we continue to work on longer term solutions in dealing with greenhouse gases.
How does this relate to the most powerful woman in American politics? In February of 2012, Clinton headed up the launch of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants, which focuses on black carbon, methane and some hydrofluorocarbons. So far the coalition has had some success, notably with the UNFCCC talks in Doha where a bunch of countries agreed to reduce these pollutants.
Don’t get me wrong, if we don’t get the carbon dioxide situation under control than nothing we do with black carbon is going to make too much of a difference in the long run. But in the short run, reducing black carbon will be a breath of fresh air for both public health and the climate. And now we have yet another reason to take action.