Shock revelation of sources of South Asia’s Brown Cloud


Daylife/AP Photo by Sucheta Das

A gigantic brownish haze from various burning and combustion processes is blanketing India and surrounding land and oceans during the winter season. This soot-laden Brown Cloud is affecting South Asian climate as much or more than carbon dioxide and cause premature deaths of 100 000s annually, yet its sources have been poorly understood.

Uh, if there’s anyone who doesn’t have a clue about the origins of this Brown Cloud they must work either in newspaper publishing or for one or another government of half-wits.

In the journal Science Örjan Gustafsson and colleagues at Stockholm University and in India use a novel carbon-14 method to determine that two-thirds of the soot particles are from biomass combustion such as in household cooking and in slash-and-burn agriculture.
Brown Clouds, covering large parts of South and East Asia, originate from burning of wood, dung and crop residue as well as from industrial processes and traffic.

These findings provide a direction for actions to curb emissions of Brown Clouds. Örjan Gustafsson…leader of the study, says that the clear message is that efforts should not be limited to car traffic and coal-fired power plants but calls on fighting poverty and spreading India-appropriate green technology to limit emissions from small-scale biomass burning. “More households in South Asia need to be given the possibility to cook food and get heating without using open fires of wood and dung” says Gustafsson.

South Asia has to deal with the worldwide whine – based in Wall Street and Washington, DC – which uses the Brown Cloud as an excuse for reactionary nationalist politics.

Some of us recall exactly the same brown cloud over Glasgow and London when they still were urban centers of cesspool-level air quality – because half the population cooked and heated in their homes with open coal fires [as does China, today]. It took decades but the “Auld Reekie” syndrome eventually dissipated with access to sufficient electricity and gas for cooking and heating.

No doubt Asian nations will achieve the same.

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