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Pollution is Good? April 28, 2010

Posted by Colleen in Climate Change, Environment/Conservation, Health, Policy.

Marian University celebrated Earth Week  last week (April 19th-22nd). We even hosted an outdoor movie and taught everyone the importance of recycling!  That same week the EPA put out a report saying that air pollution has dramatically reduced over the past twenty years. To me, that seems like a really good thing, but according to a recent NPR story, clean air could actually be intensifying global warming.

Shocked?  Me too.

But, according to science writer Eli Kintisch, this could be the case.

Why is this so?

Well, there are two kinds of air pollutants: aerosols and greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases warm the planet, which we are well aware of, but recently scientists have discovered that aerosols actually have a temperature maintaining effect for the earth. Apparently if all man-made air pollution was stopped, global warming could be sped up by as much as a degree Fahrenheit. While greenhouse gases absorb heat, adding to global warming, aerosols actually reflect sunlight away from the earth causing the earth to cool down rather than heat up. By cleaning the air, we’re taking away this stuff away, perhaps adding to the increase in the global temperature. These pollutants still cause health problems, like asthma and respiratory disease, so letting them stay in the atmosphere isn’t necessarily the answer. The scary thing is that we don’t know how much these cooling effects have slowed down global warming. If it’s a lot, then taking the aerosols away could cause a huge problem. This would mean that we’ve been causing a larger warming effect than we originally thought. If not, then it may not be as much of a concern.

One idea that has come about from this knowledge is to use geothermal engineering to fix the problem caused by removing these cooling pollutants. What we would do is inject new pollutants into the clouds, allowing for the cooling to occur. Theses sulfur aerosols are distributed naturally during volcanic eruptions, such as the one we’ve been seeing in Iceland. Volcanoes, when they erupt, put out a lot of sulfur aerosols  into the stratosphere and can cause cooling to happen. The idea is that if there is a natural emergency in the future caused by the warming, it might be possible to slow or stop the warming by mimicking the volcanoes and injecting these aerosols into the stratosphere.

Crazy huh?

To hear the whole story, click here.


1. Dr. O - April 29, 2010

Really amazing stuff. The climate is so complex on it’s own and then we add CO2 and aerosols? CFC’s put a hole in the ozone. Now aerosols can be mediating warming? Fascinating!

2. jasmine gonzales - December 14, 2011

im only in 6th grade and we are doing a report on this. are there any good sites for more facts on this?

3. Duncan - February 29, 2012

wow I never knew that polluting is actually good

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