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Article  The terrible paradox of air pollution and climate change

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EXCERPT: . . . Sulfur dioxide is one of many aerosol particles that reflects the sun’s light and can act to make temperatures globally cooler than they would be otherwise. Mount Pinatubo’s eruption temporarily dropped global temps by about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit. That doesn’t sound like a huge jump, but if you were to warm the planet by an additional 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit today, that could trigger increased flooding and fire events, sweeping heat waves, super storms, and even famines.

Collectively, volcanoes around the globe emit 20 to 25 million tons of the cooling aerosol sulfur dioxide annually, but in 1991, Mount Pinatubo alone released 15 million tons of the compound. And while extreme, Mount Pinatubo’s cooling effect is not an anomaly — nor are volcanoes the only sources.

Air-polluting sources — such as volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and industrial factories — all emit particles that reflect light and cool the planet. To be absolutely clear: This is not at all to say that air pollution is a good thing. Air pollution, after all, contributes to 7 million premature deaths per year globally. Improving air quality should be a top goal across the planet.

“Many of those same human activities [that contribute to climate change] can increase air pollution in the form of particles, and those particles are both detrimental to health and counteract, to some extent, the warming that comes from greenhouse gasses,” said Jason West, a professor in environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But in the absence of cooling aerosols, we might have nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit more warming, experts say. Given the world is on track to record its hottest summer on record, this is bad news.

While the positive effects of temperature-cooling pollution do not outweigh air pollution sources’ greenhouse gas emissions or the overall cost of these pollutants to human health, they have acted to somewhat slow the rate of warming. As we reduce air pollution — which we must do — we need to be prepared for the short-term consequences of even faster global warming... (MORE - missing details)

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