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Global Dimming: A response to Woo Yun’s Article

By Toni Rosati

A Response to Woo Yun’s Article: “The Implications of Global Dimming and Global Warming”

While the author, Woo Yun, is correct in stating that global dimming may directly relate to the effects of global warming, the article does not address far more serious concerns that stem from the causes of global dimming. Global dimming is a term used to describe the lessening of the solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface. Currently, this is happening because of increases in air pollution, everything from aerosols, particulates, sulfates, and even international dust. Clouds must have these tiny objects to condense around in order to form. Since there are more of these molecules in the atmosphere, more clouds are forming and increasing the albedo, or reflectiveness, of the Earth, thus not allowing the warming process to occur as fast as it would if there were less air pollution.

At first glance, this seems like a climate mitigator’s geoengineering dream, but it is actually a health nightmare. It has been proven that people who live in areas with higher parts per million of these aerosols and particulates suffer from increased rates of asthma, lung cancer, and lots of other diseases. The circulation of the Earth’s decreased lung function, lung cancer, chronic and acute bronchitis, as well as heart problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, and arrhythmias. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared that “tens of thousands of people die each year from breathing tiny particles in the environment.” The circulation of the Earth’s atmosphere increases the risk of downwind populations to these same health factors even though they did not produce the chemicals themselves.

Upon further investigation of the albedo geoengineering myth, we see that the clouds that are being formed because of the increase in aerosols are doing even further damage to the world’s population by changing the precipitation patterns. Clouds must have particles, called condensation nuclei, in order to form. With the increase in particulates in the atmosphere, there are more molecules for clouds to condense around. But the available condensation nuclei are increasing much faster than the water vapor in the atmosphere. This means that the current amount of water vapor is being spread amongst many more condensation nuclei producing clouds that are less likely to create rain. The author mistakenly sees this phenomenon as a positive overall effect by arguing that “this results in heavier, more opaque, and longer-lasting clouds which block more sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface.” On the contrary, it is producing higher altitude, thin, wispy cirrus clouds.

The fact is that changes in rain patterns lead to drought which will harm populations much faster than the slower threat of global warming. NASA satellite measurements have been used to research this phenomenon. They have found that when the clouds are measured over a year’s time, the same overall measurement of cloud coverage has been reached, but when smaller time spans are looked at, say one month, it becomes clear that the type of clouds being formed have dramatically changed over the last few decades. Instead of thick, precipitable clouds, high, thin cirrus clouds are in greater abundance. Cirrus clouds do not produce needed precipitation and their higher occurrence takes away water vapor from the potential formation of rain clouds.

Like the cloud measurement, over a year’s time it seems that areas are getting the same precipitation. But at a smaller time span, it is clear that there are times of downpour and times of dryness. Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Climate Analysis Section (NCAR-CAS), has recently researched this phenomenon and found a correlation between climate change and more extreme precipitation patterns. This is extremely detrimental to human safety because the downpours will cause flooding, mud slides, and limit the available groundwater supplies because of quick saturation and runoff.

The author points out that “other byproducts [produced from burning coal, oil, and wood] include soot, ash, and sulfur compounds (to) make up aerosols.” These are the same chemicals that produce acid rain! In the 1980’s, governments went on a crusade to reduce the occurrence of acid rain because it was so detrimental. Acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and paints, including irreplaceable buildings, statues, and sculptures that are part of our nation’s cultural heritage.It is entirely possible that with increases in black coal aerosols from the burning of fossil fuels or from climate geoengineering, acid rain problems could return.

Woo Yun makes the argument that “we cannot ignore the effect of global dimming because we may have been observing an entirely hotter climate today without it.” While I agree with this statement, I wholeheartedly disagree with the conclusions made because of it. The author says “it is important for us to consider all avenues for avoiding [global warming]” and suggests that we consider the “use of global dimming to mitigate the effects of global warming.” The encouragement of geoengineering climate with chemicals we already know to cause destructive health effects and dangerous weather alterations is short-sighted. It shows a misunderstanding of the intricacies of our climate problems and it highlights how science can be twisted to manipulate an information-hungry population.

References:

http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/effects/

http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=particle_health.page1#3

http://isccp.giss.nasa.gov/cloudtypes.html

http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/trenbert.html

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