NICOSIA: A slowdown in the world
economy may give the planet a breather from the excessively high carbon dioxide
(CO2) emissions responsible for climate change, a Nobel Prize winning scientist
said on Tuesday.
Atmospheric scientist Paul J Crutzen, who has in the
past floated the possibility of blitzing the stratosphere with sulfur particles
to cool the earth, said clouds gathering over the world economy could ease the
earth's environmental burden.
Slower economic growth worldwide could
help slow growth of carbon dioxide emissions and trigger more careful use of
energy resources, though the global economic turmoil may also divert focus from
efforts to counter climate change, said Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize
in Chemistry for his work on the depletion of the ozone layer.
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," Crutzen said.
"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."
CO2 emissions, released by the burning of fossil
fuels in power stations, factories, homes and vehicles, are growing at almost
3.0 percent a year.
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 was in
Cyprus for a lecture organized by the Cyprus Institute, a research
He caused a stir with the publication of 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.
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
Scientists observed that world temperatures dropped by 0.5
degrees centigrade on average when Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in
1991, spewing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, and Crutzen said the idea
originated with a Russian scientist about 30 years ago.
"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
50m tons per year. The experiment in the stratosphere would be one million tons
of sulfur per year. It's negligible," he said.
It would be an extreme
endeavor, but for extreme circumstances, 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.