Slow Global Warming, Improve Health, Boost Agriculture, NOW!

NASA has released a study that highlights 14 key air pollution control measures that could slow the pace of global warming, improve health, and boost agricultural production if they were implemented.

This Flickr slideshow highlights key emission control strategies that could help limit the release of black carbon and methane into the atmosphere. NASA’s Drew Shindell and a team of colleagues from around the world have published a study in Science that highlights how various regions and countries would benefit by limiting emissions of the two pollutants. (Credit: NASA)

A variety of interactive maps provided by NASA can be accessed by visiting their website here.

The research was led by led by Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City who, with his team, discovered that focusing on these measures could slow the average global warming temperature 0.5°C by 2050.

However, these measures could also increase global crop yields by up to 135 million metric tonnes per season, and prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.

Unsurprisingly, countries in Asia and the Middle East would benefit the greatest, but the entire planet would see improvement.

“We’ve shown that implementing specific practical emissions reductions chosen to maximize climate benefits would also have important ‘win-win’ benefits for human health and agriculture,” said Shindell.

14 out of 400

Shindell and an international team of scientists considered almost 400 control measures that were based on technologies evaluated by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.

The resulting study focused solely on 14 of these measures that the scientists believe would have the greatest climate benefit.

All 14 measures would curb the release of either black carbon or methane, pollutants that exacerbate climate change and damage human or plant health.

Black carbon is a product of burning fossil fuels or biomass such as wood or dung, and it can worsen a number of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

On top of this, the small particles also absorb radiation from the sun causing the atmosphere to warm and rainfall patterns to shift, as well as darkening ice and snow, reducing their reflectivity which in turns hastens global warming by increasing the amount of sunlight absorbed by land mass.

Methane, on the other hand, is a major constituent of natural gas, and is both a potent greenhouse gas and an important precursor to ground-level ozone which is itself a key component of smog and also a greenhouse gas which damages crops and human health.

The scientist do not dismiss the horrible effects of carbon dioxide, and leave it as the primary driver of global warming over the long term, black carbon and methane are both particles that affect the global warming over a short period of time, and by curbing their spread we could see a more immediate impact.

As such, the countries likely to see the greatest protection against global warming if these control measures were impelemented were Russia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, countries with large areas of snow or ice cover. Iran, Pakistan and Jordan would experience the most improvement in agricultural production. Southern Asia and the Sahel region of Africa would see the most beneficial changes to precipitation patterns.

The south Asian countries of India, Bangladesh and Nepal would see the biggest reductions in premature deaths. The study estimates that globally between 700,000 and 4.7 million premature deaths could be prevented each year.

“Protecting public health and food supplies may take precedence over avoiding climate change in most countries, but knowing that these measures also mitigate climate change may help motivate policies to put them into practice,” Shindell said.

“The scientific case for fast action on these so-called ‘short-lived climate forcers’ has been steadily built over more than a decade, and this study provides further focused and compelling analysis of the likely benefits at the national and regional level,” said United Nations Environment Program Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Source: NASA

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