Eliminating this common pollutant could actually lead to more forest fires

By Lauren Leffer | Inverse |

INVERSE - Nobody likes smog. Aerosol pollution, a mucky particulate cocktail of soot, dust, chemical fumes, and other compounds that linger in the atmosphere, is a worldwide problem. It’s unsightly, triggers environmental harms like acid rain, and is terrible for the health of humans and wildlife alike. Scientists and environmental advocates generally agree: We want cleaner air. But a new study suggests we should be careful about what we wish for, or at least mindful of the route we take to get there.

Reducing aerosol pollution, without simultaneously cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, could lead to more and worse wildfires across the Northern Hemisphere, according to research published May 29 in the journal Science Advances. Using an intricate climate model, the study researchers found that imposing strict air quality standards, while continuing to pump out carbon dioxide and methane, could significantly boost boreal fire activity in Canada, Russia, Alaska, and parts of Europe. And, in fact, reductions in aerosol pollution could end up being a bigger driver of these northern fires than a continued increase in greenhouse gasses.

“Cleaning up the air, which is something we all want to do, will accelerate global warming and also impact wildfires unless we also reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon dioxide,” said Robert Allen, lead study researcher and a climatologist at the University of California, Riverside, in a press release.

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