When we think of global warming, we immediately think of carbon dioxide, or perhaps even methane, the two invisible gases that have the greatest impact on the planet’s temperature. Now Mark Jacobson of Stanford wants us to add a new culprit to the list, and this one is easy to see. Soot, says, Jacobson, is another major culprit, particularly in the Arctic regions, where it absorbs the sunlight that both hits the snow and bounces off it. He calls this a “double whammy.”

Soot, he says, comes from burning any fuel that leaves dark residual matter. It’s in diesel, jet fuel, and shipping fuel, he explains. But soot is unlike carbon dioxide in that it is the greenhouse gas most easily dealt with. It lingers in the air for only a few weeks, unlike CO2, which can last for decades. As such, global efforts to reduce soot can have an almost immediate impact on the environment. “If you eliminate emissions of soot, most of its temperature reduction will occur pretty quickly because you’re reducing the atmospheric concentration almost immediately,” he says.

Soot may not have the same impact as CO2 on the atmosphere, but as global warming hurls us into a hotter, flatter world, it’s another low-hanging fruit that we can tackle.
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