Best Way to Cut Arctic "Black Carbon"? Stop Burning Fossil Fuels

Public Domain. Wikimedia

70% of this potent pollutant comes from fossil fuels, not biomass burning.

Recent news that the Arctic may be locked in to 4 to 5 degrees of warming even if emissions cease tomorrow has renewed discussion about doubling down on cutting short-term climate forcing pollutants such as black carbon. But what exactly is black carbon and where does it come from?

Essentially a fancy term for "soot", black carbon only stays in the atmosphere for days—not decades—but because it then settles, it continues to absorb heat from the sun's raise and therefore continues to speed up warming at the Earth's surface, with increased subsequent melting of glaciers and snow that eventually leads to sea level rise.

Often, the discussion about what it is and where it comes from has put a lot of attention on biomass burning—wood stoves, burning of agricultural waste etc—but Inside Climate News reports that new research led by Patrik Winiger of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has found a full 70% of Arctic black carbon comes from fossil fuels. The research—which was conducted over five years—traced the majority of black carbon emissions to fossil fuel burning, particularly in northern countries including Canada, Northern China, and the Northern United States—essentially areas above 42 degrees latitude, or roughly where the Southern border of New York state, Michigan and Oregon lie.

So it's presumably good news, then, that Norwegian oil demand is down thanks to electric cars and buses. And it's great to hear that both Finland and Michigan's largest utility are phasing out coal.

Every single fossil fuel retirement and/or emissions reduction should be celebrated everywhere. But in northern regions, they appear to be doing double duty.