NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Politics Stalls Global Warming Research

May 6, 2003

As much as half of any artificial global warming that may be due to human activity is caused by the long-distance travel of airborne soot and similar pollutants, says meteorologist James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce and coordinator of climate change research for the Bush administration.

But research into the phenomenon is being stalled by the politics of global warming, as India in February 2003 persuaded the United Nations Environment Program to drop research efforts. The United States objected to the proposed 1997 Kyoto climate change protocols because they did not require mandatory reductions in emissions of so-called greenhouse gases by developing countries. Indian officials are reported to be concerned that such research bolsters the U.S. case.

The two-mile thick, continent-size cloud over the Indian Ocean -- dubbed the "Asian Brown Cloud" -- was discovered in 1999 by Indian scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan.

  • The reigning theory of "aerosols" -- airborne particles such as soot -- was that they soon drop from the sky, leaving the earth's atmosphere relatively pristine.
  • Scientists previously believed only greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide could be carried by prevailing winds for thousands of miles from their source.
  • But Ramanathan's six-week, $25 million experiment discovered the cloud -- at some points more than 1,000 miles from the source.
  • The research suggests that the cloud could reduce sunlight hitting the earth in that area by as much as 15 percent and cut rainfall over much of Asia by up to 40 percent.

Asian pollution contains dark soot from hundreds of millions of dung-fueled cooking fires and inefficient coal furnaces. Soot warms the upper air by absorbing sunlight and artificially cools the earth's surface. This can cause regional droughts due to less evaporation from the cooler ocean.

Source: John J. Fialka, "Discovery of 'Asian Brown Cloud' Over Indian Ocean Sets Off Fight," Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2003.

For text,,SB105216877389201500,00.html


Browse more articles on Environment Issues