This is like finding out that the secret to bringing down the national debt is more government spending. (Yes, Keynesians, I know. “It is!”)
As much as I’m ready to don a “Stop global warming — burn more carbon!” t-shirt, there is, alas, a wrinkle to the findings:
“People normally just focus on the warming effect of CO2 (carbon dioxide), but during the Chinese economic expansion there was a huge increase in sulfur emissions,” which have a cooling effect, explained Robert K. Kaufmann of Boston University. He’s the lead author of the study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science…
Chinese coal consumption doubled between 2003 and 2007, and that caused a 26 percent increase in global coal consumption, Kaufmann said.
Now, Chinese leaders have recognized the effects of that pollution on their environment and their citizens’ health and are installing equipment to scrub out the sulfur particles, Kaufmann said.
Sulfur quickly drops out of the air if it is not replenished, while carbon dioxide remains for a long time, so its warming effects are beginning to be visible again, he noted. The plateau in temperature growth disappeared in 2009 and 2010, when temperatures lurched upward.
The obvious question: Why not start churning sulfur into the upper atmosphere, where it’s too high up to do much harm but high enough to reflect sunlight and cool the Earth? Read this Atlantic piece from 2009 for a what-if on that. It’d be surprisingly cheap to do, but side effects could include acid rain, unintended extremes in current climate patterns (an even hotter, drier Africa, if you can believe it), and the minor fact that once we turn the A/C on, there’s no easy way to turn it off. If/when we stopped pumping, the sulfur in the atmosphere would quickly dissipate but we’d still be left with the carbon that had built up over time, which, per AGW theory, would lead to sudden rapid heating of the surface. Sulfur’s necessarily a temporary fix, in other words, unless/until we figure out a way to quickly dissipate the carbon in the atmosphere (and in that case, who needs sulfur?) or we come up with some sort of sulfur-like coolant with the same benefits but less of the drawbacks. Tick tock!