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What is Black Carbon and is it worse than C02?

Black carbon, or soot, is part of fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) and contributes to climate change.

Black carbon is formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, wood and other fuels. Complete combustion would turn all carbon in the fuel into carbon dioxide (CO2), but combustion is never complete and CO2, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and organic carbon and black carbon particles are all formed in the process. The complex mixture of particulate matter resulting from incomplete combustion is often referred to as soot.

Black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant with a lifetime of only days to weeks after release in the atmosphere. During this short period of time, black carbon can have significant direct and indirect impacts on the climate, the cryosphere (snow and ice), agriculture and human health.

Several studies have demonstrated that measures to prevent black carbon emissions can reduce near-term warming of the climate, increase crop yields and prevent premature deaths.

Black carbon is far worse for the environment than CO2. However, it’s also extremely short-lived by comparison; carbon dioxide can stick around in the atmosphere for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years.

By contrast, black carbon is normally washed away by precipitation within days or weeks. As such, its ability to retain ambient solar energy is measured at 1.1 watts per square, as opposed to 1.56 watts per square metre for CO2.

Black carbon’s impact upon human health must also be considered. Given that it is a principal ingredient in particulate matter (PM), and that PM is widely considered as one of the most damaging forms of air pollution to those exposed to it in unsafe concentrations, there is indeed a case to be made that black carbon is more damaging than CO2.

On the other hand, the substance’s relatively short half-life in the atmosphere means that greater gains can be witnessed almost immediately if its emissions are curbed, both in human and environmental terms.

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