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Rethinking air conditioning amid climate change

Rethinking air conditioning amid climate change

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It was a monumental day for the environmental movement more than 30 years ago when all 198 countries in the world agreed on something for the first and only time ever. They signed on to the Montreal Protocol, making a pact to phase out a roster of chemicals that damage the Earth’s ozone layer. Chief among these were the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons used by the cooling and refrigeration industry. Alternatives, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), were quickly found.

But in recent years, scientists have come to realize that the Montreal Protocol of 1987 might have traded an immediate problem for a long-term one. Though HFCs don’t cause the same damage to the ozone layer as CFCs do, the chemicals have warming potentials hundreds to thousands of times higher than that of CO2—making their growing global use a cause for concern.

The 20th-century industrial revolution saw a major boom in the air-conditioning and refrigeration industry in Europe and North America. Now, as developing nations boost their economies, countries such as China, India, and Nigeria are seeing skyrocketing demand for these appliances.

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