Refrigerant Revolution: A Cool Future Ahead for AC and a Warming Planet

Read more in this series

image courtesy
image courtesy

Our series on the Refrigerant Revolution has covered the background and history of refrigerants, the current policy backdrop, and an examination of key issues around appliance recycling, regulatory compliance and continued use of common refrigerants like R-22.

By Jill Abelson and Jeff Cohen

We wrap up the series with highlights from last week’s story in The Economist  — which looked at the pros and cons of cooling in a warming world — and leave you with a video calling for a revolution in cool.

Health benefits, improved productivity and reduced mortality are among the absolute and undeniable benefits of modern cooling and air conditioning.  Air Conditioning in America by Gail Cooper and Stan Cox’s Losing our Cool – both cited in The Economist article – trace the fascinating history, societal benefits, growth and challenges of modern cooling.

America uses more electricity for cooling than Africa uses for everything, according to Cox. Hotter summers and larger homes caused American energy consumption for air conditioning to double between 1993 and 2005. Cooling buildings and vehicles creates almost half a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Factoring in demand from developing countries, Dutch researchers have predicted that worldwide demand for air conditioning will rise fourfold this century.

Image c/o

Efficiency gains in cooling and refrigeration technologies abound.  Yet, as this series has noted, international protocols have only slowly phased out refrigerant gases that are harmful to the ozone layer and climate systems. Meanwhile, slow-to-replace older equipment in the U.S. and developed countries, in addition to new appliances in the developing world — still rely on older pollutants with high global warming potential.

It’s a complex problem, spanning technology, science, policy, business and economics. Could it be that the challenge of refrigerants and climate calls for new approaches, maybe even a revolution in the meaning of cool? Who knows, maybe even a small change will drive a revolution.

Our next series will turn to solutions and leadership.

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak preview:


Leave a Reply