Self-Cleaning Atmosphere: The Disappearance of Hydroxyl Radicals
Global warming. Air pollution. Carbon dioxide. Anthropogenic climate change. Currently, all of these are hot topics–and subjects that we are told we should spend time worrying about and much money correcting. According to US Geological Survey scientists, California may soon experience a winter superstorm that will be partially due to increased atmospheric temperatures. Our fault? Fred Singer, a former University of Virginia atmospheric physicist and author of Unstoppable Global Warming agrees that the world is warming up, and that carbon dioxide levels are rising due to man’s activities, but he does not think the two are related. After all, he argues, the world has always experienced oscillating temperatures and carbon dioxide levels. That does not necessarily mean that one is causing the other. His analysis of the data does not make him popular, to say the least!
Now, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have published an article in the journal Science that says the Earth’s atmosphere has another curious property. Free radicals. We are often warned about the dangers of free radicals to our health, but in the atmosphere the free radical hydroxyl has a cleansing effect. It reacts with and destroys pollutants such as methane, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. And since hydroxyl levels do not vary much, it must be that we humans are not as powerful as we thought!
Does this mean we should be irresponsible about the environment, sending pollutants into the atmosphere and cutting down trees? Of course not. But it does mean that we can perhaps spend less time panicking about the environment and slow down enough to analyze the cost:benefit ratio of proposed solutions to environmental issues.