Compass Counterpoint

19 April 2020

A Serious Aspect that the Mass Media Isn’t Mentioning

On April 8 the New York Times ran a silver lining story, welcoming the clear skies and clean air over the usually heavily polluted air choking cities in India and elsewhere. There have been many similarly positive reports — and we certainly need some good news in uncertain times.

But while fossil fuel burning is, of course, hugely harmful, these CO and other emissions are, paradoxically, also providing a screen from the ultimately far more dangerous build-up of CO2  greenhouse gases that would otherwise be heating the earth at an even more alarming rate. The phenomenon is called Global Dimming, or, in scientific terminology, the Aerosol Masking Effect. As always in science, there’s a debate over statistics. Nevertheless, even the most optimistic projections of rapid change still pose a real difficulty of adaptation for most living organisms. Global dimming is not a theory. It’s an acknowledged reality.

During 9/11 and the brief shutdown of flights, global warming was observed to have slightly but measurably accelerated. Once normal pollution resumed, the warming slowed down. We’re now in a situation where most flights world-wide have been suspended, cars are off the roads everywhere and, globally, many factories have been in total shut-down.

The dusts and vehicle particles that haze our skies and upset our breathing are also helpfully reflecting the sun’s heat back upwards. The clouds of pollution act as floating mirrors that slow down the warming. It’s the ultimate Catch 22. It’s been likened to the dilemma of an alcoholic who needs to keep drinking to stay alive but, in doing so, will destroy his liver. Yet global dimming remains astonishingly little-known. The few editors who are familiar with it and the scientists who have worked with it generally deem it too much bad news for an already anxious public to take in. It will inevitably become better known when we learn the extent to which the planet’s warming has accelerated.

In a study published last year in the prestigious peer review journal Science, Professor Daniel Rosenfeld of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Earth Sciences argued that aerosol particles play a far greater role in cooling the earth than had been previously thought. This means that the true extent of global warming, masked by pollutants, has also been under-estimated. Other scientists have verified Rosenfeld’s concerns, yet they remain little known. Global dimming flies in the face of established green thinking, and demands a whole new approach to climate change.

The mass media’s coverage of the Coronal-19 virus has been obsessively about numbers, national statistics and economic forecasts. More complex and profound issues like global dimming, probable absenteeism among highly trained professionals in nuclear reactors and other essnential places and much else have been almost entirely overlooked. Or avoided.

The public is left walking in a fog — under clear skies.

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