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Global warming, anyone? Get more AC?

A View From the Edge

If you live in a city, the 2.7-degree change expected globally in the next decade or so will actually be 7.2 degrees in cities. Why? Because cities are heat traps and, to make matters worse, air conditioning (AC) removes heat from inside buildings and dumps it outside.

In Manhattan they measure the city’s temperature in Central Park, often 15 degrees cooler than the canyons downtown at midday in July. Add humidity to that number and you have Madison Avenue temperatures approaching jungle-stifling heat. Let’s not mention the subway system…

Here’s what is frightening people fighting to save a habitable, livable, environment for us all: Currently AC accounts for almost 10% of all electricity generated on the planet. Add to that, AC units use refrigerants that are seriously contributory to global warming, labelled “potent greenhouse gases.”

Look at it this way: As we cool our private spaces and industry, we’re heating the planet further, requiring more cooling — it’s a vicious circle.

Thirty years ago, the Montreal agreement banned CFCs, which were burning holes in the ozone layer (which reflects a lot of the sun’s rays). We instead used hydro-fluoro-carbons (HFCs), which didn’t hurt the ozone as much but, it turns out, retain heat brilliantly, adding to the warm blanket around the Earth.

HFCs are adding to global warming alarmingly — pound for pound they have thousands more capacity to retain heat than CO2.

Suggestion? Replace HFCs with propane. Yes, you read that right, propane would work just fine and, for the average AC or kitchen refrigerator they use about a half-pound of propane (compared to 25 pounds for your barbecue). As long as it didn’t leak (standards need to be set), this would definitely be better for the environment.

How much better? Changing to propane would remove .72 degrees of planet warming over the century. That’s one huge leap for a simple fix. Well, not so simple, as regulations and safety technology would have to be mandated, and that takes politics…

Sophie Geoghegan, climate campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, has been plotting the increase in demand for AC use worldwide and says we’re on track to triple units installed by 2050 or 5,600,000,000 AC units worldwide. That’s almost one per person. Ten new AC units are being sold every second… and if the whole world buys one, along with industry and car manufacturers, you are talking about at least 14,000,000,000 units in operation worldwide by 2050.

That’s unsustainable, for the refrigerants as well as the cost (energy) for making the units.  However, by 2030 the energy efficiency of the new units using gasses like propane would save the CO2 emissions of 5.6 gigatons of CO2, which is the equivalent of 1,400 coal fired power plants being shut down.

Clearly the issue of global warming is much more complex and threatening that simply saying, “So what if it gets a degree hotter, I’ll just buy AC units.”

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now resides in New Mexico.

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