Clinton Targets Short-Lived Pollutants as Drivers of Climate Change

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced a joint, six-nation climate change effort to reduce air pollutants. The freshly christened Climate and Clean Air Coalition, consisting of delegates from Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Bangladesh, Ghana, and the United States, met in Washington to detail measures that will curb emissions of pollutants such as black carbon soot and methane, so-called “short-lived” climate pollutants because they dissipate in the atmosphere much faster than their long lingering cousin carbon dioxide.

Though they have a shorter lifespan, recent studies have revealed that short-lived pollutants account for 30-40% of global warming, much higher than previously thought. And if that wasn’t grave enough news, researchers estimate that these industrial byproducts alone destroy millions of tons of crops annually and gradually kill millions of people breathing in the toxic air.

Fortunately, recent research from California climate scientists has highlighted a number of solutions that could readily reduce the fallout from these global warming agents. Researcher Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a thirty-five year veteran in the field of climate change, inspired many of the recommendations Clinton outlined at the summit. To decrease emissions of soot which taint the air brown in parts of Asia, one of the proposals advised replacing the brick kilns used for cooking with clean-burning stoves and another prescribed adding particulate filters to diesel automobiles.

As an alternative to disposing of methane gas, it was recommended instead that we capture methane released into the atmosphere and repurpose it as a fuel source. Ramanathan estimates that these and other measures could reduce global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius, buying us valuable time as we develop stronger measures to combat global warming’s heavy hitter carbon dioxide.

In the Sacramento region, residents are ahead of the curve and are already adopting strategies to rid the air of pollutants. In response to rising diesel costs and climate regulations, ranchers in the town of Galt have replaced their soot-emitting diesel irrigation pumps with more efficient electric ones. The switch to electric pumps is part of a larger pump replacement program administered by the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality District that receives funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

In January, the EPA earmarked $1.09 million in the Diesel Emission Reductions Act specifically for pumps in the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin region. Regulators hope this will help curb soot emissions, which tend to settle in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley.

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Bruce Reznik is the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League (PCL), who partners with hundreds of California environmental organizations to provide an effective voice in Sacramento for sound planning and responsible environmental policy at the state level.

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