Black Carbon

Black carbon pollution has been occurring ever since the industrial revolution, coinciding with the advent of the internal combustion engine. Wary of the potential risks, scientists first began studying the effects of smoke and soot as early as 1896. Over the years, levels of black carbon emissions have steadily increased. Previously, it was widely believed among scientists that black carbon pollution had a significant warming effect on the atmosphere. Recently, they have discovered that its effect is roughly four times what was initially concluded.

Black carbon is a form of particulate air pollution usually as a result of burning, cooking with solid fuels, and the exhaust created by diesel powered engines. Recent research suggests that soot and other forms of black carbon may contribute an amount to global warming equal to about 60% of that contributed by carbon dioxide, making it more of an environmental threat than any greenhouse gas other than CO2.

Somewhere between 25-35% of the world’s air-borne black carbon comes from China and India. Most of that contribution is due to the burning of wood as well as cow dung in household cooking and also in part to the burning of coal to heat homes. Countries that depend heavily on diesel powered vehicles for transportation, such as many European nations, also add a significant amount to the black carbon in the atmosphere. It is believed that the smog gathering as a result of this pollution over Asia is responsible for rapid increase in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, which provide drinking water to billions of people that inhabit the continent. This is considered to be potentially very problematic as the pollution is likely affecting the quality of the water. Indoors, smoke inhalation as a result of cooking has reportedly caused the deaths of approximately 400,000 women and children in the South and East Asia regions.

Unlike carbon dioxide, black carbon particles only remain in the atmosphere for about a week (carbon dioxide lingers for over 100 years). This means that if we could effectively eliminate excess black carbon production, we would see results virtually immediately in terms of pollution reduction and air quality. There are already commercially available products today that feature technology that can drastically reduce black carbon emissions. The real challenge is to get the demand for those products up and make them affordable, so that they can become more accessible to the public and widespread. Through environmental education and continued promotion of awareness, eliminating black carbons from our atmosphere is considered a feasible, relatively short-term goal that could potentially have a dramatically positive effect on the state of our global environment as a whole.