A tremendous opportunity to fight climate change is now in the U. S. Congress as the “American Innovation and Manufacturing Act” or AIM (S 2754). This bill will phase out HFC super greenhouse gases and help avoid a full half degree centigrade of global warming by the end of this century. Since the goal of the Paris Agreement was to limit warming to 1.5 deg C, this is indeed a big deal.
Many of you have read “Drawdown”, the best-selling list of science-based solutions to fight climate change (1). However, it’s a surprise to many people that the number one most effective solution presented is refrigeration, specifically the proper management, disposal and, ultimately, elimination of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. The reason for this is that these materials are among the most potent and long-lived greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide (2).
The story of HFCs is one of good intentions, environmental success and unintended consequences. The first commercial refrigerant was ammonia, which was abandoned due to toxicity and explosiveness. The industry then developed chorofluorocarbons, (CFCs), also known as freons. These materials were safe and non-toxic, but had a property that was unknown when they were developed in the early 20th century, namely destruction of stratospheric ozone. Continued use of CFCs steadily degraded the ozone layer, which protects life from dangerous levels of uv radiation, ultimately leading to a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The world worked together to ban these materials in the Montreal Accord of 1987 and today the ozone layer is healing nicely. The replacement for CFCs were HFCs, which were also safe and non-toxic and did not attack ozone. However, when they were introduced in the early 1990’s, the world was not attuned to their potential as greenhouse gases and it turns out that they are world champions in that regard; 5,000 times more than CO2 over a twenty year period. The industry is now moving on to hyrofluoroolefins (HFOs) which have much less global warming potential and still preserve the desired properties of HFCs with respect to ozone depletion, toxicity and safety.
The Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice are soliciting letters to submit to Senators by May 14, 2020 in support of the AIM act. While most of the rest of the world has signed on to the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Accord, which would phase out HFCs, the Trump administration has refused to do so. So a legislative fix is necessary, in the form of the AIM act. This is truly a bipartisan bill, with 17 Republicans (among them Lindsay Graham and Chuck Grassley) and 17 Democrats/Independents as co-sponsors. Neither Senator Tillis nor Burr have co-sponsored, so our letters can make a real difference. Please send them to Russ Outcalt ([email protected]) so they can be forwarded to the UUSJ. To learn more, visit the UUSJ website: http://uusj.net/wp1/
(1) Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. New York, New York: Penguin Books.
(2) “Overview of Greenhouse Gases”, EPA.gov, U. S. Enivronmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases