Chinese pollution makes American storms worse
By Jonathan M. Gitlin | Published: March 12, 2007 - 12:12PM CT
They say all politics are local, but perhaps they should also say that pollution is global. We already know that the more severe effects of climate change won't be on the countries that contribute the most carbon but the poorest parts of the world, and that's not the only example. Although the past few decades have seen huge improvements made in air quality in the US, booming industrial production in China coupled with much more lax environmental regulation has seen the air quality in that nation plummet.
But the consequences of this pollution aren't just being felt in China and the surrounding regions. New research from a team at Texas A University has looked at the effect of pollution from power plants in China and India and demonstrated an effect on the Pacific storm track. Aerosols and soot from coal power stations are seeding clouds leading to alterations in the frequency and severity of weather events over the US. Comparing satellite data between two 10-year periods—1984-1994 and 1994-2005—there was a significant increase in storms of between 20 and 50 percent in the latter period, especially around winter.
There are also knock-on effects predicted to influence climate change in the arctic, where dark soot deposits can change the albedo and further exacerbate the fast warming trend we are seeing in this region.
As the polluters in this case are India and China, there isn't a huge amount that the people affected by these increasingly strong winter storms can do, but there are some signs that attitudes in the region are changing. China in particular has been making more noises about cleaning up its act, and certainly has the political structure whereby changes can be forced through with much greater ease than the horse trading we see in the West. Still, with the oft-quoted figure of one new coal-fired power-plant coming online each week in China, the problem may well get worse before it gets better.