HomeScience and ResearchSustainabilityStudy explains why 'laughing gas' could be a growing climate problem

Study explains why ‘laughing gas’ could be a growing climate problem

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Nitrous oxide, popularly known as “laughing gas,” is the third most significant greenhouse gas after methane and carbon dioxide, and the most serious human-caused threat to the ozone layer.

A multinational team of experts thinks that the societal cost of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is the largest remaining threat to the ozone layer, is undervalued.

As the authors explain in their analysis, published in Nature Climate Change, enhancing the accuracy of these computations would not only provide better information about the effects of climate change but will also encourage countries to take more aggressive action against it.

Nitrous oxide’s ozone-depleting action would increase the present social cost of this gas by 20%, according to the study’s authors. Since more harmful UV radiation reaches the Earth’s surface as a result of ozone depletion, the repercussions on human health and plant and animal life are more severe.

“Updating the social cost of nitrous oxide’s impacts to include stratospheric ozone raises the calculation significantly above current estimates,” said David Kanter, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University and one of the authors.

According to the experts, a new measurement would most likely have an impact on government action.

“A more accurate estimate would make the case for action on nitrous oxide even more compelling and increase the likelihood of meeting U.S. climate and sustainable development goals,” added author Peter Groffman, a professor with the Advanced Science Research Center at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Environmental Science Initiative.

The current social cost estimates ignore how nitrous oxide, or N2O, affects the ozone layer, which shields the earth from the sun’s powerful rays—an important oversight because continued ozone depletion could harm crops and marine life while also increasing human exposure to cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. Nitrogen fertilizers used in agriculture are one of the most significant sources of N2O emissions.

Many countries, notably Canada and the United Kingdom, use these damage costs to assess the worldwide impact of policy efforts to combat climate change.

In order to better understand the societal costs of carbon emissions, scientists and economists have invested a lot. However, the societal costs of nitrous oxide have been overlooked, according to the study authors.

“Accounting for these impacts in regulatory review—as well as how they are distributed across and disproportionately affect vulnerable and marginalized communities—could significantly influence the types of policies that are favored,” they concluded.

Source: DOI: 10.1038/s41558-021-01226-z

Image Credit: iStock

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