Cool Is A Problem
Well, shit, you guys, I had no idea. According to Drawdown, the best way to reduce the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is... the materials we use in refrigeration?!?
Yeah, I know, I was scratching my head over this one, too. Here's my layman's explanation on why this one is such a biggie.
First, the science-y bit. Fridges, such as those in your home, supermarkets, food delivery trucks, etc, and air conditioning units in homes/cars, etc. contain chemical refrigerants (CFCs and HCFCs) that absorb and release heat. This is what keeps all of us sweaty humans and our enormous stockpile of food cold.
The problem is that CFCs and HCFCs deplete the stratospheric ozone layer which is crucial to absorbing the sun's UV rays. They are such a colossal problem that the guys who discovered how they destroy the atmosphere were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Not only were they given a nice prize, this work led to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (catchy name) to phase these substances out of use. To give you an idea about what a massive problem these rotters are - it took only two years from the time the gaping hole in the atmosphere over the Antarctic was discovered for the ENTIRE GLOBAL COMMUNITY to adopt a legally mandated course of action against them.
As the Covid-19 pandemic proved, the entire global community agreeing on anything is rare, indeed. So these CFCs/HCFCs must have been a pretty fecking big deal if they motivated basically every world leader to actually agree on something for once.
You may be asking what the problem is seeing as these guys were banned in 1987. Well, it's taken 30 years for that aforementioned giant hole in the ozone layer to start to heal. There's also the teensy issue of their replacement substances - HFCs.
Thankfully, HFCs don't cause the same kind of trouble as CFCs/HCFCs, buuuuuut "their capacity to warm the atmosphere is between 1000 - 9000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, depending on their exact chemical composition," explains Drawdown's editor, Paul Hawken.
So, again, the world (more than 170 countries) actually came together in Kigali, Rwanda in 2016 and negotiated the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol (another catchy name) to phase out HFCs as well. The Kigali deal, now adopted by 197 nations, has mandatory commitments and sanctions and costs financed by rich countries, unlike the Paris Climate Agreement. It was, as then secretary of state, John Kerry, said, "the biggest thing we can do on climate in one giant swoop." High income countries started phasing HFCs out in 2019, lower income countries will start in 2024 or 2028.
We're on the right track in phasing out use of these nasties, but the damage they cause is actually greatest at the point of disposal. 90% of refrigerant emissions happen at the end of life, so if they're not disposed of properly, they escape into the atmosphere. Addressing the refrigerants coming out of use is just as important as phasing in less damaging ones.
If we manage to contain 87% of refrigerants that are likely to be released over the next 30 years, we could avoid emissions equivalent to 89.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That is why refrigeration is number one on the list of potential solutions to our global warming problem.
But what can we, as individual consumers, do to help support the Kigali deal and the Montreal Protocol? It's as simple as making sure our fridges/air conditioning units don't have any dangerous leaks and, when it's time to get rid of them, ensure we dispose of them according to local laws. Most of the time, fridges have to be drained of their coolants by a professional. DO NOT just chuck them in a dumpster.
Seems pretty straightforward... If only the rest of the most effective solutions were this simple!