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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports sulfur from coal inhibits global warming

Hold the presses and the auto web blogs. The media has been reacting to coal as a cause for global warming when sulfur particles reflect solar energy into space? At least someone finally found one reason why the earth has not warmed up in the last ten years.


Does this mean we should stop the electrification of the automobile, too? Or burn more coal?

Another question is, how will this affect auto sector product planning let alone stocks, like General Motors (NYSE: GM); Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F); Toyota Motors (ADR: TM); even Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) and others.

The study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team of two geographers and two economists headed by professor Robert Kaufmann at Boston University (BU) say the sulfur in China coal plants literally offset the CO2, which explains why there has been no increase in earth temperature for the past ten years.

Who knew? Don’t you just love how governments pay scientists and universities millions in research only to hear another from the scientific community say, Oops, our bad?

Fact is, global warming advocates have long charged that burning coal releases carbon dioxide that traps heat from the sun, which raises temperatures to the danger level. What they failed to track, though, was the emission of sulfur particles which seem to help block the sun's rays. End result seems to be a cooler earth, at least in the short run.

Problem is, cleaning the air after burning coal makes the warming more of a reality, because it reduces particulates in the air.

In a way, the burdening impact on the economy to fight a climate problem that doesn’t exist now looks as absurd as many thought. Still, we have plenty of other reasons to not burn coal; it’s just that climate temperature isn’t one of them, at least according to this latest report. I’m waiting for a rebuttal, by the way, likely to be paid by your tax dollars.

I also realize American automakers are still getting hammered to totally eliminate fossil fuels, while China gets a free ride because they are supposedly an emerging economy. Have you checked their export numbers lately? That’s far from emerging except in the sense of getting ahead of the U.S.

Now for the other side of the equation

So, climate change is not affected by coal; almost a a zero-sum game, at least until you stop burning it and try to clean up the air. Then reality hits home.

Point is, sulfur has more than one use besides homeopathy, and fire and brimstone. But what about clean air for humans to breath? Breathing sulfur is not exactly my idea of clean air for my kids and grand kids. And as an asthmatic, I still say it’s important.

On the other hand, I detest scientists being used to promote a political agenda that has no basis in truth. And I definitely detest government officials using tax dollars to play their game.

Simple fact is, easy-to-get oil is past its peak, and that makes it too expensive as a fuel, which is reason enough to still switch to natural gas. Also, it burns cleaner. What a novel idea! Yes, I believe in competing commodities to act as a hedge.

It’s also a valid reason to rein in the pace of the Environmental Protection Agency and its efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. They should base their agenda on free-breathing, clean air, not just CO2 levels. Fact is, the EPA with its regulatory agenda has been at war with the American coal industry, and to a lesser degree, the auto industry.

And don’t forget the economic impact by government manipulation using EPA to ride herd on laws defined by them, like carbon management and credits.

Bottom line for me on this subject: I’m not saying we should give up on automotive electrification totally. It’s just we have sufficient economic reason to concentrate more on fuel efficiency, rather than some climate event that now has been proven to be non-existent.

I have always felt the world went warm naturally during the middle ages when there were no cars, no China and no major coal industry. Did scientists turn off their logic? And one look at a National Geographic program showing volcanoes deep in the ocean spewing did it for me years ago.

Now the BU study also confirms the huge impact that natural phenomena such as volcanic activity, ocean currents and solar activity have on climate. So, let’s stay the course for fuel efficiency, clean air and clean planet, but let’s not allow political and social engineers to sway us ever again from a sensible approach.

About the Reporter: After 39 years in the auto industry as a design engineer, Frank Sherosky now trades stocks, futures and writes articles, books and ebooks like, "Perfecting Corporate Character," "Awaken Your Speculator Mind", and "Millennial World Order" via He may be contacted here by email: [email protected]

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AT&T reduces dependence on foreign oil with CNG powered Chevy vans
Scuderi Air-Hybrid Engine technology setting up to challenge electric hybrids
Volt increasing traffic onto Chevy dealer showroom floors
Cella Energy achievement may make hydrogen fill-up a reality
Stop-start technology to advance more micro hybrids by 2016


Anonymous (not verified)    July 8, 2011 - 11:03AM

You need to read the study more closely.

Given the widely noted increase in the warming effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations, it has been unclear why global surface temperatures did not rise between 1998 and 2008. We find that this hiatus in warming coincides with a period of little increase in the sum of anthropogenic and natural forcings. Declining solar insolation as part of a normal eleven-year cycle, and a cyclical change from an El Nino to a La Nina dominate our measure of anthropogenic effects because rapid growth in short-lived sulfur emissions partially offsets rising greenhouse gas concentrations. As such, we find that recent global temperature records are consistent with the existing understanding of the relationship among global surface temperature, internal variability, and radiative forcing, which includes anthropogenic factors with well known warming and cooling effects.

The finding that the recent hiatus in warming is driven largely by natural factors does not contradict the hypothesis: “most of the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid 20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” As indicated in Fig. 1, anthropogenic activities that warm and cool the planet largely cancel after 1998, which allows natural variables to play a more significant role. The 1998-2008 hiatus is not the first period in the instrumental temperature record when the effects of anthropogenic changes in greenhouse gases and sulfur emissions on radiative forcing largely cancel. In-sample simulations indicate that temperature does not rise between the 1940’s and 1970’s because the cooling effects of sulfur emissions rise slightly faster than the warming effect of greenhouse gases. The post 1970 period of warming, which constitutes a significant portion of the increase in global surface temperature since the mid 20th century, is driven by efforts to reduce air pollution in general and acid deposition in particular, which cause sulfur emissions to decline while the concentration of greenhouse gases continues to rise.

The cooling effect of the sulfur is short-lived compared to the warming effect of the carbon-dioxide. So, burning more coal (in the long run) means more and more warming.

The study does not contradict current science. It says that the observed hiatus is/was consistent with current science.

Frank Sherosky    July 8, 2011 - 1:03PM

With all respect, you need to read the article more closely.

What the study does prove, is that certain scientists lied to the public by saying temps did rise, when this report gives reason as to why temps didn't. If the science community wants our respect and support as global climate watchmen, then it has to ALWAYS relate truth, no matter what that truth is; and stop rearranging data to support their own suppositions and politcial agendas.

In no way did I contradict the report or the fact that man induced it by burning the coal in the first place. Fact is, the planet changes temperature with or without man. The report merely gave the effect THIS TIME as not an immediate problem as has been reported. It is unfortunate that man now creates more warming as he attempts to clean the air.

Another point is, there are plenty of natural causes that have as much affect as man, and probably more so as noted in the article. After all, man only lives on 20 percent of the earth's entire surface, where 80 percent is ocean and naturally has the acreage to release far more internal heat. Isn't that how the little ice age came about when there was no coal burned of any significance?

Anonymous (not verified)    July 8, 2011 - 3:43PM

I'm sorry, but you’re wrong.

The trend has been rising temperatures. During the period from roughly 1940-1970 there was even some cooling (due to sulfur pollution.)

There’s really nothing new here. In June of 2001, even President Bush said as much:

President Bush Discusses Global Climate Change

First, we know the surface temperature of the earth is warming. It has risen by .6 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years. There was a warming trend from the 1890s to the 1940s. Cooling from the 1940s to the 1970s. And then sharply rising temperatures from the 1970s to today.

There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming. Greenhouse gases trap heat, and thus warm the earth because they prevent a significant proportion of infrared radiation from escaping into space. Concentration of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And the National Academy of Sciences indicate that the increase is due in large part to human activity.

Yet, the Academy's report tells us that we do not know how much effect natural fluctuations in climate may have had on warming. We do not know how much our climate could, or will change in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it.

For example, our useful efforts to reduce sulfur emissions may have actually increased warming, because sulfate particles reflect sunlight, bouncing it back into space. And, finally, no one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided.

No scientist has said otherwise.

Now, we’ve seen a similar hiatus, and certain people have suggested that means the warming isn’t happening. This study’s conclusion is that the hiatus is just what the science tells us should happen. (i.e. increased burning of coal temporarily slows the warming trend.)

Frank Sherosky    July 9, 2011 - 9:26PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Your argument is still unbalanced and illogical. Explain the rise in temperature during the Depression era. Then explain the stable temperature during 1942-1982, using your own chart.

Fact is, the earth's core is intensely hot. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that 80 percent of the earth surface has a lot of cracks in it under the oceans. That is statistically too much to ignore as a root cause for global warming.

Argue against coal for clean air and I am on your side, but not global warming using coal as the sole culprit. I will follow up with another article, clean coal technology.

Anonymous (not verified)    July 11, 2011 - 3:36PM

In reply to by Frank Sherosky

Unbalanced and illogical?

You’re ignoring decades of science.

Here’s testimony from 2001:


Anonymous (not verified)    July 11, 2011 - 3:54PM

The cooling properties of sulfates are not a new discovery. May I suggest you read:

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Vol. 96, pp. 3372–3379, March 1999 Colloquium Paper

This paper was presented at the National Academy of Sciences colloquium ‘‘Geology, Mineralogy, and Human Welfare,’’ held November 8–9, 1998 at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.

Airborne minerals and related aerosol particles: Effects on climate and the environment

Sulfates§ and Associated Soot and Organic Species. Sulfates are probably the main climate-cooling aerosols (51–53). They scatter solar radiation and are effective as CCN; the result is negative forcing and thus cooling at Earth’s surface. The radiative forcing of sulfate aerosol particles, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, is roughly equivalent in magnitude but opposite in sign to the combined forcing by the greenhouse gases (12, 51, 53–55).

Anonymous (not verified)    July 22, 2011 - 6:47AM

It is most unfortunate that due to pressures from petrochemical and agribusiness, we are frittering the small window of opportunity to save ourselves from extinction. We have only 10 years, before it is too late to reverse the global warming that will cause thawing of the tundra. Once that happens, methane will be released, precipitating warming 20x faster. Then it will be too late to save ourselves from extinction.

The National Academy of Sciences has confirmed that earth is unequivocallly warming due to human activities, not due to a normal recurring natural phenomenon.