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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 12:45 EDT

Slowing Economy Could Ease Growth Of Climate Change Emissions

October 7, 2008

A Nobel Prize winning scientist said on Tuesday that the current lagging economy could provide Earth with a much-needed break from climate change-inducing emissions of carbon dioxide.

Atmospheric scientist Paul J Crutzen, known for discussing the possibility of blitzing the stratosphere with sulfur particles to cool the earth, said a global economic slowdown could help slow growth of carbon dioxide emissions.

Furthermore, although the global economic turmoil may also divert focus from efforts to counter climate change, a slowing economy could spur more careful use of energy resources.

“It’s a cruel thing to say … but if we are looking at a slowdown in the economy, there will be less fossil fuels burning, so for the climate it could be an advantage,” said Crutzen, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for his work on the depletion of the ozone layer.

“We could have a much slower increase of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere … people will start saving (on energy use) … but things may get worse if there is less money available for research and that would be serious,” Crutzen added.

The U.N. Panel on Climate Change estimates that world temperatures may rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius (3.2-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) this century. The Group of Eight industrial nations agreed in July to a goal of halving world emissions by 2050.

Crutzen drew criticism when he authored a paper in 2006 suggesting that injecting the common pollutant sulfur into the stratosphere some 10 miles above the earth could snuff out the greenhouse effect.

He believes that dispersing 1 million tons of sulfur into the stratosphere each year, either on balloons or in rockets, would deflect sunlight and cool the planet.

“I am not saying we should do it, but it is one of the options if we continue under present conditions. We should study it,” he said. “If you look beyond a decade, two decades, and nothing has been done (to counter warming) then we will have a very serious problem on our hands.”

Sulfur is a component of acid rain, which has harmful effects on plants and fish.

“Acid rain is caused by sulfur dioxide emissions from the ground, from the chimneys, and it’s 50 million tons per year. The experiment in the stratosphere would be one million tons of sulfur per year. It’s negligible,” he said.

In a 2007 report, the U.N. climate change panel said such geo-engineering options were largely speculative and unproven, with the risk of unknown side effects. Reliable cost estimates had not been published, it said.

“The price is not a major factor… it’s peanuts,” said Crutzen. “The cost has been estimated by some at 10, 20 million U.S. dollars a year.”

Image Caption: Paul J Crutzen (NASA)

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