Apologies for the green movement circa 2007 title, but this time it's actually apt—not like all those posts about how unplugging your phone charger will save the planet.
A new article in Science brings together and highlights the effectiveness of a number of actions that could comparatively quickly slow global warming, and none of them are high-tech geoengineering schemes.All make a sort of end run around cutting carbon emissions—though the authors explicitly and rightly acknowledge that we need to do that too—by addressing other sources of warming, namely black carbon soot and methane emissions.
Ultimately we have to deal with CO2, but in the short term, dealing with these pollutants is more doable, and it brings fast results. We have identified practical steps we can take with existing technologies. 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.
Before we get to the actual steps the report advocates, here's the payoff, in terms of reduced warming and human health improvement:
If all the steps are taken, warming could be reduced by 0.9°C by 2050, or eliminating about two-thirds of currently projected additional warming by mid-century.
This would also avoid 700,000 to 4.3 million premature deaths from outdoor air pollution annually and increase crop yields by 30-135 metric tons due to reduced ozone pollution post-2030.
So what are the steps?
TreeHugger has covered many of them before, so follow the links for more in-depth info on each if you have questions. Also, if you prefer a photo presentation, there's a gallery on Flickr that contains the images used in this post and others, with captions explaining each in more detail.
- Switch to cleaner burning cookstoves — In addition to being a major health hazard when used indoors, disproportionally affecting women, inefficient cookstoves are a major source of black carbon soot. Currently they cause an estimated 1.6 million premature deaths annually. There are a number of much more efficient versions of these type of cookstoves available right now. In other words, it won't require a wholesale shift in the way people cook or major lifestyle changes. That is, except for the premature death part.
- Limit leaks from the fossil fuel industry — Though in up to 90% of methane byproduct of fossil fuel production is captured and reused in many industrialized nations, in many developing countries that drops to 20%. Raising that figure will reduce methane emissions and slow warming.
- Increase Fuel Efficiency and Fuel Cleanliness Standards — If the entire world's car fleet had the same efficiency and pollution standards as those in Europe black carbon emissions would drop 18%, thanks to less black stuff belching from tailpipes.
- Capture Methane From Coal Mines — If we stop just venting methane-rich air from coal mining directly into the atmosphere it would reduce methane emissions from this sector of the economy significantly, particular in China. Of course, that doesn't eliminate the emissions from burning the coal itself, which we should also quickly stop.
- Cap Methane Emissions From Landfills — Decomposing garbage in landfills is another major source of methane emissions. But these can be trapped and diverted for better use than warming the atmosphere. NASA says, "Installing such systems on a broad scale could reduce human-caused methane emissions by 8%."
- Ban Agricultural Burning — Burning agricultural land to replenish the soil does indeed do just that. But it also does a number of the atmosphere when done on the scale it currently is. If this was stopped black carbon soot emissions would be reduced by 7% and methane emissions by 1%.
- Drain Rice Paddies More Frequently — If the worlds' rice paddies were drained in mid-season, human-caused methane emissions would drop 2%.
- Improve Wastewater Treatment Systems — Now, plenty of places in the world unfortunately don't have any form of wastewater treatment, but putting in place the best modern systems there and upgrading existing older systems would reduce methane emissions by 1%.
- Upgrade Brick Kilns — Perhaps an unfamiliar site in many places, but quite common in many developing nations, smoke churning brick kilns are a significant source of black carbon pollution. Upgrading the way we make bricks in places using inefficient kilns would reduce this by about 4%.
- Compost More — This might be the one most familiar to TreeHugger readers, but it bears repeating: If we universally separated out compostable material from landfills the amount of methane produced by them (currently about 22% of all human sources of methane) would be reduced.
- Reduce Methane Emissions From Livestock — We all know that ruminant animals produce a lot of methane (cow burps and all that). But if we collectively changed the type of feed these farm animals are given, covered up waste lagoons and captured their methane emissions, human sources of methane would be reduced by 2%. The study itself doesn't say it, but I will: If we raised less animals for meat and dairy, by adopted vegetarian or vegan diets, or even largely vegetarian diets, we could also reduce emissions and slow warming significantly.
- Modernize Coke Ovens — The study notes, "Traditional beehive-shaped coke ovens are still used to process coal in some parts of the world even though ovens that generate less pollution are available. Shindell's team found that upgrading all of the world's coke ovens would reduce total black carbon emissions by three percent."