The Pitfalls of Prosperity: There Goes the Ozone Layer


Apartment Complex, JiangjunAo, Hong Kong, 2004, Edward Burtynsky

As India and China become more prosperous and their citizens join the middle class, they are buying air conditioners. By the tens of thousands. Says Mumbai's Geeta Vittal, owner of five: "All my friends have air-conditioners now," she said. "Ten years ago, no one did."
According to the New York Times:

Rising living standards throughout India and China, the world's two most populous countries and the fastest-growing major economies, have given a lot more people the wherewithal to make their homes more comfortable. The problem is that Mrs. Vittal's air-conditioners — along with most window units currently sold in the United States — use a refrigerant called HCFC-22, which damages the ozone.

"The emissions of things like HCFC-22: we had thought they were sufficiently in control, that we didn't have to worry about them," said Joe Farman, the British geophysicist who discovered the ozone hole.

HCFC-22 is is not as bad as the old chlorofluorocarbons but still a danger. Industrial countries are supposed to phase it out by 2020 but developing countries, which includes China and India, have until 2040. Europe already bans it so units are being dumped in North America, which is why AC units now cost less than a hundred bucks at Wal-Mart.

So even though HCFC 22 is only 5% as bad for the ozone layer as the old stuff, through sheer volume the ozone hole is expanding again, and is back to the size it was in 2001. ::New York Times

Tags: Air Conditioning | Architecture | China | India