The Economist also brings us big news on the “settled science” of climate change. A new study has found soot to be twice as bad for climate as was previously thought, making it the second most damaging greenhouse agent after CO2. This is actually good news for two reasons.
First, soot is easier to control than CO2, and targeting that kind of pollution provides lots of benefits that have nothing to do with climate change: it’s a dangerous pollutant and a health threat on its own. Second, controlling soot will seriously slow the speed of climate change. One of the study’s authors told the Economist that fully addressing the soot problem would strip half a degree from potential warming, buying politicians and scientists more time to make informed decisions.
This is where we’ve been for some time: the global approach to reducing CO2 emissions is a dead end, and while the overall science about the climate seems well established, there are some significant fiddly bits that haven’t yet been worked out. There may be more surprises like soot in the works, some good, some bad, but in any case the details, the timing, and the consequences of climate change are less clear than the overall arc, and the case for particular policies is often significantly weaker than the overall case that climate change is under way.