The days of blasting off into the temporary weightlessness of suborbital space are fast approaching—for people with the right stuff in their bank accounts, anyway. Some scientists fear, though, that once the space tourism business becomes established, a steady train of people hurtling into euphoria at the borderline of space could have climactic consequences down here on the surface.
They’re talking about soot. Soot or black carbon, which comes from fuel that does not burn completely, ought to be a more high-profile climate villain than it is, and it would be easier to contain than the carbon dioxide emissions we’re more worried about. According to a team led by Martin Ross, craft flying at such great heights would leave a trail of soot that wind and weather patterns could not reach, leaving it to hang around there and interfere with climate patterns. They published their model (paper in press) of this scenario in Geophysical Research Letters.
Ross’ team presumed 1,000 suborbital flights a year by a decade from now, and plugged in the estimated emissions to see what would happen. They modeled all the flights as coming over Spaceport America, the Virgin Galactic-backed New Mexico spaceport.
Cooking all your meals on an old-fashioned stove indoors is bad for you and bad for the Earth: The smoke from those fires causes heart and lung problems for millions of people, the soot contributes to global warming and glacier melt, and the need for so much wood drives deforestation. Yet, out of necessity, nearly half the people in the world cook this way.
This week, a United States and United Nations-backed effort took the first tiny steps to try to turn that around. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that the U.S. will give $50 million in seed money to the new Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an organization with the intention of providing cleaning-burning cooking stoves to families around the world. Other partners will each provide $10 million.