Climate Matters: Slowing the global temperature rise

Winter hazard: A typical Armidale winter morning. Super-pollutant emissions are higher per capita than other cities due to wood-stoves.
Winter hazard: A typical Armidale winter morning. Super-pollutant emissions are higher per capita than other cities due to wood-stoves.

As well as CO2 (which needs to be reduced), other substances known as super-pollutants, or short-lived-climate-pollutants, are major contributors to global warming, including methane, black carbon, ozone and HFC refrigerants.

A kilogram of methane causes more warming in the 20 years after emission than 86 kg CO2. But if emissions stop, most super-pollutants disappear rapidly from the atmosphere and no longer contribute to global warming.

This is important because feedback loops are damaging the climate - current warming causes future warming. When glaciers and polar ice melt, solar radiation warms the planet instead of being reflected back into space. 

Another feedback loop involves methane, released from melting permafrost and undersea ice, adding to future warming.  

By significantly reducing super-pollutant emissions, we slow current, and future warming, giving us the best chance of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees while we transition to zero CO2 emissions.

Armidale is doing its fair share of reducing CO2 emissions by using less electricity and installing efficient appliances, insulation and rooftop solar. Council’s City to Soil program reduces methane emissions from landfill and local groups actively campaign against fracking (a potential cause of methane releases).

But our super-pollutant emissions are still higher per capita than other cities because wood-stoves emit high levels of methane, black carbon and other super-pollutants.  A New Scientist review found that “log-burning stoves are harming our health and speeding up global warming”.  Implementing the UN Environment Program’s recommendation to phase out log-burning stoves in developed countries would not only improve our health but also slash our emissions.

Modern, efficient reverse-cycle air-conditioners are now effective on cold nights and deliver four to six times as much heat as they use in electric power. They are affordable, cause less global warming  and should have lower running costs than buying firewood. Over the next 20 years, the average wood-stove in Armidale will not only increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s, lung diseases, cancers, cot deaths, premature and still births, behavioural problems and reduced IQ in children, it will cause more warming than 20 to 50 homes using reverse cycle heating – for details, see http://woodsmoke.3sc.net/superpollutants

What could be better than a win-win strategy to reduce heating bills, improve our health and help keep global warming well below 2 degrees?