Global, Tragic Irony: That Which Saves Us From Heat Is Making Our Planet Hotter

By Sophie Bushwick | June 22, 2012 2:53 pm

air conditioners

As the summer heats up, air conditioners are being cranked to full blast. Once upon a time—that is, until the 1980s—the coolant gasses in these machines, which leaked into the atmosphere after units were junked, were a major threat to the ozone layer. Now manufacturers have replaced them with ozone-friendly versions. But the new coolants are still potent greenhouse gasses.

In a New York Times article, Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew W. Lehren describe how air conditioner use is increasing, and why this could spell trouble for climate change.

The oldest CFC coolants, which are highly damaging to the ozone layer, have been largely eliminated from use; and the newest ones, used widely in industrialized nations, have little or no effect on it. But these gases have an impact the ozone treaty largely ignores. Pound for pound, they contribute to global warming thousands of times more than does carbon dioxide, the standard greenhouse gas. The leading scientists in the field have just calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the newest gases currently employed in air-conditioners, up to 27 percent of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050.

As developing countries continue to adopt air conditioning and refrigeration, the greenhouse gases will keep building up. Although the United States is urging other nations to stop installing air conditioners that use these gases, alternative coolants that would neither damage the ozone layer nor contribute to global warming are not yet available. Possible solutions are in development, but the NYT piece explains why many of them have stalled.

Image courtesy of spasticchair2 / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • jimbow

    It looks like damn if don’t damn if you do case. maybe we need to work on one that could undo the damage of the others. Even if did come up with one that did it’s side effects would more then likely cause something worce.

  • Aidan

    Tis tragic for true. I suppose we’ll just have to bite the bullet and give up on air conditioning… -.-

  • Dave G

    Human beings are infinitely adaptable creatures: ban airconditioning and in about one week everybody would have adapted to wherever they live. A computer room, set at a fixed 20 °C is warm in winter and cold in summer. The range 10°C to 35°C needs no modifying … people who live in colder and warmer climates are forgiven for needing some assistance. In short, airconditioners create their own demand, by creating the illusion of unpleasantness of the ambient conditions.

  • floodmouse

    Personally I have never seen the need for air conditioning. My house was built around 1920, and it stays cool in summer and warm in winter. I have good ventilation with windows on every side, adjustable blinds to regulate how much sunlight gets in, and insulation in the attic to help preserve the interior temperature of the house.

    I always laugh because the office where I work is heated to about 80 degrees in winter, then air conditioned down to about 60 degrees in summer, which is distinctly uncomfortable. Multistory office buildings with nonadjustable windows are not well-designed for self-regulation of temperature – that seems like design laziness, since the architects knew they could rely on central heating & cooling.

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