Many consider the Montreal Protocol that phased out the use of ozone-destroying CFCs to be one of the great environmental successes ever. The refrigerant was replaced with hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that don't eat ozone, but can significantly contribute to global warming. In the New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew Lehren write about the impact this might have. The real problem is the sheer numbers:
Unfortunately, the warming effect of that "environmentally friendly refrigerant is 2100 times worse than CO2.
An air-conditioner has become a sign of middle-class status in developing nations, a must-have dowry item. It is cheaper than a car, and arguably more life-changing in steamy regions, where cooling can make it easier for a child to study or a worker to sleep.
The leading scientists in the field have just calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the newest gases currently employed in air-conditioners, up to 27 percent of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050.
Read it all in the New York Times.
This is not a good day to be preaching the virtues of living without air conditioning, but much of the reason that it is so necessary is because we have forgotten how to design houses and buildings that can live without it. See a roundup of many of our posts on the subject in The Deluded World of Air Conditioning Revisited