New research says implementing clean efforts to decrease polluted air will not speed up global warming.
Surprisingly, it has long been a worry of scientists that combating air pollution could actually make global warming worse. The reason is that although pollution is hazardous to human health, it is also thought to be helping to cool the planet because pollution particles assist in the formation of clouds with more water droplets, which are thought to reflect more of the sun’s energy back into space instead of toward the Earth. However, new research has found that pollution effects clouds in different ways so turning to cleaner energy solutions to combat pollution isn’t likely to suddenly spike global warming.
Pollution is not likely to offset more than half of greenhouse gas warming.
The research, which was conducted by the University of Reading and published in the journal Nature, revealed that pollution affects different clouds in different ways. While sometimes air pollution particles result in clouds getting thicker, other clouds become thinner. In other words, pollution is not likely to offset more than half of global warming.
Velle Toll, the lead author of the study, said that the scientists studied satellite data from clouds near sources of pollution. They wanted to investigate the long-believed theory that thicker clouds form when water droplets condense around particles in polluted air, postponing rainfall and allowing clouds to reflect more sunlight back into space, helping to cool the Earth.
What the researchers found in their tests was that there was little change in average water content throughout all the polluted clouds that they found.
What this showed was that pollution has very little effect on many types of clouds. Some get thicker but other clouds thinned out.
“This reduces a big area of uncertainty for future forecasts of the climate,” Toll says, Phys.org reports.
“Our study provides more evidence that cutting emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution is a win-win situation for the health of people’s lungs and for preventing the worst impacts of climate change.”
Air pollution has a limited ability to stop the atmosphere from warming.
More specifically, the scientist involved in the study located hundreds of polluted clouds around the world. These clouds were produced by miniscule pollution particles from a variety of sources including cities, factories, ships, wildfires and volcanoes.
The scientists studied whether changes to clouds simulated by climate models are accurate for the purpose of better predicting future climate change.
“Our study provides assurances that polluted air has a limited ability to prevent the atmosphere from heating up, in addition to being bad for people’s health,” said Dr. Nicolas Bellouin, study co-author from the University of Reading, who is also a Working Group I lead author in the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report.
“There is now one less excuse for us not to cut emissions of both air pollution and greenhouse gases, or we will continue to see temperature rises that put people and the natural world in danger.”