Global Dimming

I just watched a truly frightening program on the telly. BBC Two’s Horizon series focused on the issue of Global Dimming, which I had never heard of. It’s the phenomenon where the amount of solar radiation or sunlight getting to the earth, through our atmosphere, has been decreasing steadily in the last several years. Decreasing quite dramatically actually. Global Dimming thus makes our planet cooler, which has been offsetting the disastrous effects of Global Warming. The reason for the dimming is air pollution, which fills the atmosphere with tiny particles that keep the sunlight out, actually reflecting the sunlight back into space.

It’s the ultimate catch-22 for the human race. As we diminish the amount of pollution in the air, we increase the rate of Global Warming. There were some disturbing studies on how bad Global Warming would be if there was no dimming. The one that really sticks out is the study over the three days directly following the 9/11 attacks. The study was taken because of the highly reduced amount of air traffic in those three days. Most air traffic had been grounded and thus the number of contrails left by airplanes was practically nil. Airplane contrails were another reason given for the Global Dimming. The results were astounding. Temperatures, measured as the difference between the low and the high on a particular day, rose markedly – by about 1 degree celsius. Scientists surmise that if Global Dimming stopped altogether, Global Warming would affect us almost immediately and not in a good way.

It was a great, eye-opening program that pointed out that something had to be done NOW about both pollution and the burning of fossil fuels (which release greenhouse gases) to alleviate both warming and dimming. Reducing pollution in western Europe has already given strength to Global Warming, evidenced by the higher temperatures in the last few years. The heat that killed hundreds in France last Summer may have been just one result, in addition to the famine and drought in Africa’s Pan Sahel region. We owe it to future generations to act now, and it may well be the very next generation that starts feeling the brunt of our mismanagement of the planet.

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