2013 Jan. 22: Climate Change and Wood Smoke Pollution

As you may know, President Obama’s inaugural speech included climate change as a priority.  This is a significant opportunity for us to tie climate change to black carbon from residential wood smoke.


Here’s an excerpt from a  NY Times article today on the speech (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/us/politics/climate-change-prominent-in-obamas-inaugural-address.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130122&_r=0):   “President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.”


This is significant also for the timing.  Last week, a major new research study was published on black carbon’s contribution to climate change.  And – this is important – the study specifically identified residential wood smoke as a major contributor and even calls out wood boilers!


The report was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres.  The full report is at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jgrd.50171/pdf


Here are a few key excerpts from the study Abstract (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jgrd.50171/abstract) and the full report that I thought were really interesting and relevant to the wood boiler problem:


“However, global atmospheric absorption attributable to black carbon is too low in many models, and should be increased by a factor of almost three.”


“Thus there is a very high probability that black carbon emissions, independent of co-emitted species, have a positive forcing and warm the climate. We estimate that black carbon, with a total climate forcing of +1.1 W m-2, is the second most important human emission in terms of its climate-forcing in the present-day atmosphere; only carbon dioxide is estimated to have a greater forcing.”


“For a few of these sources, such as diesel engines and possibly residential biofuels, warming is strong enough that eliminating all emissions from these sources would reduce net climate forcing (i.e., produce cooling).”


In the report, there is specific reference to wood boilers and contributions to black carbon. It mentioned the impact of these devices in areas near the arctic. I thought this might interest you.  Here are some key exerpts:


“Wood used in many heating stoves (i.e., conventional wood stoves) produces a higher POA:BC ratio than wood for cooking (i.e., mud cooking stoves), while larger heating technologies (i.e., ‘wood boiler’) can have low POA:BC ratios depending on the operation.” (page 144)


“Figure 10.3 shows that wood boilers specifically offer potential to reduce positive forcing associated with BC emissions. Further, the potential for mitigating climate forcing might be greater in certain regions such as the Arctic.”  (page 160)


“In Europe, several countries (e.g., Nordic countries, Germany, Sweden, and Austria) have introduced voluntary eco-labeling of stoves with standards for efficiency and emissions. Some countries (e.g., Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany) also issued national emission standards for small residential installations; the most comprehensive at this time is a German law from 2010 (Federal Law Gazette, 2010). Finally, the European Commission Renewable Directive (2009/28/EC) set combustion efficiency standards while the Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC) is being extended to include small residential combustion of solid fuels. These developments mean that the technical feasibility of alternatives is in the mature phase, although programmatic feasibility for widespread implementation may vary considerably by country.“ (page 161)  — Note: the updated NSPS should be based on the most stringent European standards.


This report is getting a lot of attention, with articles about it in the NY Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/science/earth/burning-fuel-particles-do-more-damage-to-climate-than-thought-study-says.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=2&   and The Economist:



One of the authors of the report works for EPA.  I’m hoping this report will pressure EPA to regulate Black Carbon as a specific pollutant, preferably a criteria air pollutant (http://www.epa.gov/air/criteria.html) and a climate change contributor.  It wouldn’t fit in the category of greenhouse gas (http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/)


If EPA does regulate Black Carbon as a pollutant, it and states could perhaps use that regulatory authority to reduce/eliminate BC from existing wood-burning devices, especially OWBs.


This should also be a consideration in the NSPS somehow.  Perhaps as a scientific argument for drastically reducing PM2.5, or soot, of which Black Carbon is a component.


If you’re interested, this is an opportunity to write your elected representatives and contact environmental organizations and regulatory agencies to 1) ask them to support Black Carbon regulations, and 2) tell them about the new scientific report and wood smoke contributions to Black Carbon.


Regulating Black Carbon could force EPA and states to require cleaner burning devices beyond the proposed NSPS, wood-stove changeouts (to non-wood burning), retrofits, and bans.


We know that photos are important in telling our story.  Next time you see a photo of a glacier, notice that they’re covered in soot.  Black carbon is covering glaciers and causing exponential melting. See the photo below of a soot-covered glacier.




I hope you’re all doing well and see this new info as encouraging and supportive of our cause for clean air.

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