New Scientist Magazine
3rd March 2001

Ian Lowe discusses public health

WHENEVER I refer in this column to the urban air pollution caused by motor vehicles, my mailbox and that of the editor are swamped with missives from people who believe the impact of wood-burning stoves to be more serious.  They have some justification, as I discussed last year (Antipodes, 22 April, 2000).  Regional cities such as Armidale and Launceston have serious air quality problems on winter nights when hundreds of wood stoves are alight.  The resulting smoke causes distress to people with respiratory problems. 

Now some American work suggests that the soot particles from stoves burning wood or coal may also make a serious contribution to global warming.  A study by Stanford University researcher Mike Jacobson found that soot particles in the air increase the amount of solar radiation absorbed in the atmosphere, thus adding directly to global warming.  He has called for measures to phase out burning solid fuels.  ‘The largest source of mortality from air pollution is indoor burning of biomass and coal,’ Jacobson says.  ‘Reduction of such burning, therefore, will not only mitigate global warming but also will save lives.