Kerosene lanterns may be an overlooked source of Climate Change pollution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

kerosene_lamp_view_B.jpg10c4831f-9c85-45e3-b81d-10851dd97d3fLargeConsidering that oil lamps, or better kerosene lamps and lanterns, are the primary source of lighting in the third world it is a source of climate change pollution that has been overlooked for many decades.

A new study by researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois has shown that this significant source of black carbon pollution, that from Kerosene lanterns, used as a primary light source for millions of people worldwide, has been widely overlooked.

It turns out that the black carbon soot from kerosene lanterns is twenty times higher than is currently assumed when factoring in this light source into calculations of total black carbon emissions.

The researchers have found that 7-9% of the kerosene ends up in the atmosphere as black carbon.

Black carbon, which to all intents and purposed is but a fancy name for the pollution we all know from coal fires and the burning of kerosene, namely soot, is increasingly being cited as a significant factor in global warming, as well as in glacier melting.

Rather than being a greenhouse gas, like CO2 or methane, black carbon is particulate air pollution. It increases warming, but once the source of the pollution is removed the warming it causes drops rapidly, unlike greenhouse gases. It is this brown carbon and black carbon, that is to say soot, that is, primarily, responsible for the glacier melts in the Himalayas.

This means that if we can phase out or at least significantly reduce the sources of this pollution―open cookstoves used by millions of people in poor nations, older diesel engines, as well as kerosene lanterns―we can reduce warming with a much quicker timescale to see results than in reducing carbon emissions, even though doing the latter is hugely important, as well.

While I am the first to admit that I am not a climate scientist I would like to suggest that more warming and thus resulting climate change is being caused, in fact, by air pollution than by the always quoted gases. The Hippies of the 1960s and 1970s were already ringing the alarm bells as to pollution of our air (and the environment per se) in those days but the powers that be chose to ignore this warning.

Study co-author Kirk Smith, from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health said: “There are no magic bullets that will solve all of our greenhouse gas problems, but replacing kerosene lamps is low-hanging fruit. There are many inexpensive, cleaner alternatives to kerosene lamps that are available now, and few if any barriers to switching to them.”

“That is, few barriers except perhaps resistance to changing habitats and family priorities, such as been experienced with efforts to replace older cookstoves with cleaner-burning alternatives in Bangladesh.”

“What are the cleaner alternatives? Pretty much any light source powered by electricity generated from solar power, either from solar panels, or from cookstoves that produce electricity, as well as cook food.”

The study authors rightly point out there's another big benefit of switching to cleaner forms of lighting that kerosene lanterns: Reducing indoor air pollution.

Similarly to older cookstoves, the fumes and smoke from kerosene lanterns significantly contribute to seriously health problems in people, disproportionately women and children, resulting from exposure to the fumes. In fact, 1.9 million people die annually from bad indoor air quality, according to UN stats.

Burning kerosene, which is, after all the same as JP4 (aviation fuel), is not a great idea and while this may be fine – sort of – as emergency lighting in the long run, aside from being a source atmospheric soot (black carbon) is also, as stated, a source of serious illnesses.

While the solutions, e.g. solar-powered lanterns, which must, by virtue, contain rechargeable batteries, which also, every now and then require replacing, are not cheap, they can save lives and, maybe, just maybe, reduce climate change.

© 2012