Global warming: The new black

—also known as —heats up the because it absorbs sunlight. Black things do. That is basic physics. But for years the institutions that focus on policy have played down the role of pollutants such as black carbon that stay in the for a short time, and concentrated on carbon dioxide, which, once generated, tends to remain there. That may soon change.On January 15th, the fifth day that smog-darkened Beijing’s air-quality index was registering “hazardous” (see article), the most comprehensive study of black carbon yet conducted was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. It concluded that the stuff was the second-most-damaging greenhouse agent after CO2 and about twice as bad for the climate as had been thought until now. The implications are profound.This study, a four-year affair conducted under the auspices of the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Project, an umbrella group for research into such matters, is based on a lot more information about soot than was previously available, and a better understanding of how it affects the climate. It found that the black carbon around at the moment has a warming effect of about 1.1 watts per…

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