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Are Air Conditioning Units A Climate Change Catch-22?

Posted By Timon Singh On June 21, 2012 @ 1:40 pm In global warming | No Comments

air conditioning unit, CFCs, HCFCs, o-zone layer, carbon emissions, global warming, climate change, rising temperatures [1]Air Conditioning Units Photo [2] from Shutterstock [3]

In countries such as India and China, where the summers can get particularly hot, a rapidly growing middle class has seen sales of air-conditioning units grow by an enormous 20% each year [4]. However a team of scientists from organizations which include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Nations has calculated [5] that the new cooling units entering the world market could be responsible for up to 27% of all global warming by 2050. In what is a bitter twist of irony, it seems that in order to keep cool on an ever-warming planet, we might just be making things worse.

air conditioning unit, CFCs, HCFCs, o-zone layer, carbon emissions, global warming, climate change, rising temperatures [6]

For those of you currently experiencing New York’s heat wave [7], you may currently be looking at your air conditioning unit with love and adoration. If you live in the likes of India, China and the United Arab Emirates however, you probably find them not only a luxury, but a necessity especially during the summer months. But as sales of air conditioning units increase, so too do concerns that the gases they run on are contributing to climate change. [4]

Now I know what you're thinking – don't modern air-conditioning units run of relatively clean and sustainable gases? Well the short answer is sort of. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol [8] was created in order regulate and control the use of hazardous gases such as CFC coolants [9]. These gases caused massive damage to the o-zone layer leading them to be eliminated from general usage. However the new gases that are used today still have an impact, although not on the o-zone layer. Instead, the scientists warm that they “contribute to global warming thousands of times more than carbon dioxide”.

These new gases, known as HCFCs [10], are not as damaging to the o-zone as their predecessors are, but they are being used in such amounts that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [11] are concerned about the rising levels, especially in the developing world, where they have doubled in the past two decades to record highs. One particular HCFC coolant called 410a [12]which is used in cooling units is deemed “environmentally friendly” because it doesn’t damage the o-zone, but its warming effect is 2,100 times that of carbon dioxide!

Speaking to the New York Times [4],  Stephen O. Andersen, the co-chairman of the treaty’s technical and economic advisory panel said: “There is precious little time to do something, to act.”

Despite the US aiming to eliminate the use of HCFCs, the likes of China and India are continuing to use them and with the boom in the air conditioning market, it is easy to see why. Currently, there simply isn’t a readily available commercial ozone-friendly alternative to air-conditioners that have a substantial warming effect on the planet.

So now you have a dilemma facing you – keep cool with your air-con unit and know that it could be making the planet warmer… or roast?

+ Montreal Protocol [8]

via New York Times [4]

Images © Ariaski [13]Keith Williamson [14] and ToddMorris [15]


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URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://inhabitat.com/are-air-conditioning-units-a-climate-change-catch-22/air-conditioning-climate-change-catch-22/

[2] Air Conditioning Units Photo: http://www.shutterstock.com/cat.mhtml?lang=en&search_source=search_form&version=llv1&anyorall=all&safesearch=1&searchterm=air+conditioning+unit&search_group=#id=58807261&src=2197203d03ba6d869e3bbf85b3331b6f-1-20

[3] Shutterstock: http://www.shutterstock.com

[4] sales of air-conditioning units grow by an enormous 20% each year: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/asia/global-demand-for-air-conditioning-forces-tough-environmental-choices.html?_r=1

[5] has calculated: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6071/922

[6] Image: http://inhabitat.com/are-air-conditioning-units-a-climate-change-catch-22/row-of-air-con-units/

[7] experiencing New York’s heat wave: http://inhabitat.com/nyc/scorching-heat-wave-hits-nyc-new-yorkers-warned-to-stay-cool/

[8] Montreal Protocol: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/ENVIRONMENT/EXTTMP/0,,menuPK:408237~pagePK:149018~piPK:149093~theSitePK:408230,00.html

[9] CFC coolants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorofluorocarbon

[10] HCFCs: http://www.arap.org/docs/hcfc.html

[11] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: http://www.noaa.gov/

[12] 410a : http://www.advantageengineering.com/fyi/246/advantageFYI246.php

[13] Ariaski: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roberto8080/

[14] Keith Williamson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elwillo/

[15] ToddMorris: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alohateam/

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