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Pollution could be used to fight global warming

Pollution could be used to fight global warming

Pollution could be used to fight global warming
November 16, 2006

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist caused a stir Wednesday at the U.N. climate conference in Nairobi when he said “pollution” could be used to help fight global warming.

Paul J. Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, said that injecting sulfur into the atmosphere could slow global warming by reflecting solar radiation back into space. The plan would use balloons carrying artillery guns to fire sulfates into the stratosphere. Unlike greenhouse gas emissions, which feature a lag-time in heating the globe, the climatic response from sulfate injection would take effect within six months and the reflective particles would remain in the stratosphere for up to two years.

Crutzen, who is a professor at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, initially proposed the scheme in an August 2006 paper published in the journal Climatic Change. He used the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo Volcano in the Philippines as a model for his idea. The eruption sent tons of sulfur particles into the stratosphere and cooled Earth’s surface by an average of 0.5 C in the year following the eruption.

While Crutzen said that the concept could help stop global warming, he is “not enthusiastic about it” and considers it only an “emergency measure”, according to a report from Reuters.

“Given the grossly disappointing international political response to the required greenhouse gas emissions,…research on the feasibility and environmental consequences of climate engineering of the kind presented in this paper, which might need to be deployed in future, should not be tabooed,” said Crutzen in an August 2006 news release following the publication of his paper. “The possibility of the albedo enhancement scheme should not be used to justify inadequate climate policies but merely to create a possibility to combat potentially drastic climate heating.”

Crutzen’s work was backed by a paper that appeared a month later in the journal Science. Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research calculated that the impact of injecting 10 million tons of sulfate particles every one to four years into the stratosphere could provide a “grace period” of up to 20 years before major cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions would be required. The window could give policymakers time to devise new strategies for reducing dependence on greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels.

This article used information from Reuters, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and a Springer news release.

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