Why swap black carbon for solar kwatts?

What is black carbon?

Black carbon is the fine black particles that are emitted into the air as a result of the incomplete burning of fossil fuels. Black carbon particles absorb sunlight and give soot its black colour. It is produced both naturally and by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass.

Some of the biggest contributing emissions are produced by diesel engines, cook stoves, wood burning and forest fires.

Carbon Monoxide is a deadly gas that is also emitted. This is especially dangerous in confined spaces, like inside homes. Many people in developing nations have to use candles and kerosene lamps indoors to light and heat their homes; this has a devastating impact on their heath.

Black carbon and its co-pollutants are key components of air pollution, the leading environmental cause of poor health and premature deaths.

Why swap black carbon for solar kwatts?

It is essential to continue to reduce CO2 emissions to ward off the impacts of climate change in the future. CO2 has a long atmospheric lifetime; a molecule of CO2 can linger there anywhere from a few decades to many millennia.

The benefit of focussing our attention on black carbon is that a particle of soot can live in the atmosphere for only a few weeks. By cutting down our black carbon emissions the effects are almost immediate. Black carbon has a warming impact on the climate that is 460-1,500 times stronger than CO2, per unit of mass. We will not only see change in people’s health and lower pollution levels, but also a reduction in the rate of warming, particularly in the Arctic.

Primary sources of black carbon emissions

Asia, Africa and Latin America contribute to approximately 88% of global black carbon emissions. This is mostly attributed to open biomass burning and residential solid fuel combustion. In developed nations however, where black carbon has been regulated, we have seen a decrease in their black carbon emissions levels over the past decades.

(Source: Climate and Clean Air Coalition)

Black carbon impacts the climate

Black carbon is an important contributor to the record temperatures that are being witnessed in vulnerable places like the Arctic. Many animals depend on the ice to survive and as the ocean warms up, the ice melts, the water level rises and this has a damaging ripple effect around the globe.

Black carbon is very effective at absorbing light and heating its surroundings. When these particles are suspended in the atmosphere they convert the incoming solar radiation into heat. This influences cloud formation, impacts regional circulation and rainfall patterns.

As these same particles absorb sunlight they reduce the planetary albedo. Albedo is the percentage of solar energy hitting a particular surface that is then reflected away from the earth and back into space. Ice and snow have the highest albedo, therefore where there is a reduction in snow, the surface temperature would increase.

As black carbon particles land onto the snow and ice, it darkens them, which causes them to melt faster as they soak up more heat from the sun.

Health impacts of black carbon

Each year, an estimated 7 million premature deaths are attributed to household and ambient air pollution.

Black carbon particles are so small that they are able to penetrate the lungs and enter into the bloodstream. Their particulate matter contains very fine carcinogens and is therefore particularly harmful. It has been linked to heart and lung disease, strokes, heart attacks, chronic respiratory disease such as bronchitis, aggravated asthma and other cardio-respiratory symptoms.

Even relatively low exposure to black carbon has a direct effect on the lung function of adults and an inflammatory effect on the respiratory system of children.

(Source: Climate and Clean Air Coalition)