Research Highlight: Addressing Climate Change With Off-the-Shelf Tools


A concept for achieving climate change mitigation in the short term advanced in recent years by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate and atmospheric scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, is gaining traction through a pair of new reports.

Ramanathan was the vice-chair of a 2011 United Nations Environment Programme assessment of the effects of soot and ozone.   He also contributed to a multi-institutional study published this month in the journal Science that named 14 actions — ranging from containing leaks of methane from pipelines to replacing wood-burning stoves with cleaner-burning alternatives – that could achieve multiple societal benefits. The Science study led by Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, finds that focusing on these measures could slow global mean warming 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050, prevent between 0.7 and 4.7 million premature deaths each year and increase global crop yields by up to 135 million tons per season. While all regions of the world would benefit, countries in Asia and the Middle East would see the biggest health and agricultural gains from emissions reductions.

The authors also noted that improvements in crop yields and other economic benefits would exceed by ten times the costs of implementing the measures needed to obtain the benefits.

Ramanathan has explored the effects of climate warming gases such as CFCs on the atmosphere since the 1970s. He has extensively documented a phenomenon known as the atmospheric brown cloud, a persistent mass of soot and other aerosol pollution in South Asia that has been shown to affect weather patterns and accelerate glacial melt.

“Because of this new approach, we are able to frame mitigation not only in terms of the costs of emissions controls but in terms of monetary and health benefits.” said Ramanathan.

Coverage of the report led by Shindell has come from several major outlets, including the Associated Press and the journal Nature as well as the New York Times opinion page.

See interactive and embeddable country-by-country graphs and maps of the impact of emissions reductions produced by NASA.

See imagery related to this story.

– Robert Monroe

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