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A Sooty Matter – What to do About Black Carbon Moving Forward?

black-carbon-sootSoot is defined as the particulate matter released by the burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal.  It is often a black substance that is deemed harmful because the dark particles cause warming by absorbing heat in the air, it will also enhance melting when they darken snow and ice on the ground.  On a grand scale, black carbon also quickens the melting of glaciers, whose newly-melted fresh water alters regional weather patterns.

Black carbon, the scientific term for soot, is now listed as the number two human contributor to climate change, according to the journal above that released their findings on Tuesday.  The results came as a shock to many scientists, as the study states that soot causes about twice as much impact as initially believed.  While carbon dioxide still reigns supreme atop the man-made contributors affecting Earth; soot emissions from diesel engines and your chimneys are having a huge impact on the environment.

Many experts believe that drastically reducing soot emissions globally would provide a litany of benefits, mostly health- and climate-related.  University of Leed’s School of Earth and Environment professor Piers Forster added his thoughts to the study’s findings, “[t]here are exciting opportunities to cool [the] climate by reducing soot emissions but it is not straightforward… cutting emissions from diesel engines and domestic wood and coal fires is a no brainer, as there are tandem health and climate benefits.”

Compromise has begun within the sector – last month the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instituted new standards that will further limit soot production by 2020.  While the costs of incorporating said reductions could tally upwards of $53-350 million, the EPA estimates that up to 40,000 lives will be directly saved and over $9 billion in health care bills will be cut as well.

In all fairness, it’s important to understand that there are two separate, but deeply-intertwined conversations in play here.  There’s the debate about whether soot should be mitigated solely based on climate change data.

However, the second conversation regarding the employees involved in jobs that result in soot production is far more in-depth.  As Forster mentioned, reducing soot emissions is beneficial to many, but it is not a straightforward venture.  This is not a ‘good guys versus bad guys’ scenario by any stretch, and while we can all agree that the environment we live in needs to be viable, we must also agree that a lot of good, honest, hard-working people make up the work force that’s responsible for the products and energy that we thrive upon.  It’s imperative to humanize the issue as much as possible and remember that the vitality of an entire work force is in play.

Ideally, being fair-minded will be the best way both sides of the argument will gain traction in this matter.  Sound, responsible compromise is vital between environmentalists and businesses alike.    Clean coal technology, for example, is a method that, while highly contested by some environmentalists, needs to develop and continually evolve.  Restrictions by the EPA are also a fair measure, despite being considered more of a forced measure than a compromise by many business owners.  As is the case in any negotiation, neither side will be granted everything they’re pursuing.  But one thing’s for certain, inaction is not an option because the dangers of black carbon are legitimate.

Kristopher Settle
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

Kris can be found on Twitter and Google+.

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