The smoke in the atmosphere is protecting the Earth from the effects of global warming. This means that as we send out less pollution in the future, we may find that global warming is two or even three times more than we predicted.

Top atmospheric scientists got together recently in Berlin for a meeting of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These scientists have suspected for a long time that smoke and other particles from burning rainforests, crops and fossil fuels are blocking the sunlight and protecting us from the warming effect of carbon dioxide emissions. They used to think pollution was reducing greenhouse warming by a quarter, but at the Berlin meeting, they decided it’s really reducing warming by as much as three-quarters.

Carbon dioxide will keep on building up in the atmosphere in the near future, as smoke and other aerosol pollutants continue to diminish. That means there will be “dramatic consequences for estimates of future climate change,” the scientists say. So maybe we shouldn’t be trying to reduce airborne pollution?except that particles from smoke and other emissions are a health hazard because they damage people’s lungs and shorten their lives.

“It looks like the warming today may be only about a quarter of what we would have got without aerosols,” says Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen. “You could say the cooling has done us a big favor. But the health effects of many aerosols in smog are so great that even in the poor world, they are already cutting emissions.”

Aerosol pollution only stays in the atmosphere for a few days, while most greenhouse gases remain there for a century or longer. So as time goes on, pollution particles will protect us less and less from global warming. Crutzen says, “They are giving us a false sense of security right now.”

Does global warming mean it will be warmer everywhere?or is it more subtle than that? When you learn the facts, you’ll be surprised at how little the media knows about it.

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