22. The Refrigerator Revolution and Repairing the Ozone Layer

by Project Censored
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Source: WORLD WATCH, Date: September/October 1996 Title: “The Refrigerator Revolution,” Authors: Ed Ayres and Hilary French; WORLD WATCH, Date: January/February 1996, Title: “Ozone Repair,” Author: Chris Bright

SSU Censored Researchers: Aaron Butler, Meiko Takechi Deborah Udall

While other countries have been using other environmentally safe chemicals as alternatives to ozone-depleting chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs), the United States is using chemicals that are still threatening the ozone.

The global refrigerator business and the chemical industry that supplies it have grown to be multi-billion-dollar manufacturing industries in the United States, and it is largely because they are investing money in hydrochlorofluor-carbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as alternatives to CFCs.

CFC gases that are commonly used ,in refrigerators and air-conditioners are set to be banned because they damage the ozone. Since the ratification of the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement signed in 1987 to phase out the production of CFCs, the use of CFCs has fallen more than 75 percent from its 1988 peak of 1,260,000 tons to 295 tons in 1994. In Europe, chemical compounds known as hydrocarbons (HCs) are being extensively marketed and used as a replacement for CFCs. The advantages of HCs are that they are both ozone-friendly and have minimal impact on greenhouse gases (they are made from propane and butane and are unpatentable). There are over 5 million HC refrigerators now in use all over the globe.

In the United States, however, chemical manufacturers have invested their money in HCFCs and HFCs as alternatives to CFCs. They are ozone-friendlier than CFCs, but are also notorious greenhouse gases, which means they contribute to the pressing global threat of climate change. Perhaps most significantly, however, these combinations are patentable and companies like Dupont expect to make huge profits from them. Additionally, HCFCs and HFCs break down more rapidly and are about as harmful as CFCs over the short term. Because of their poor environmental impact, HFCs and HCFCs are poor substitutes for CFCs and are due to be discontinued in 10 years, which will render all the new HFC refrigerators now being made in the United States obsolete.

In their recent book, Mending the Ozone Hole (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press), authors Arjun Makhijani and Kevin Gurney argue that it is technically possible to heal the ozone layer in about 35 years. However, because of HCFC and HFC production in the United States, unnecessary additional stress is being placed upon the ozone layer, and reliance on these chemicals are delaying ozone repair.

COMMENTS: Ed Ayres and Hilary French of the World Watch Institute co-authored “The Refrigerator Revolution.” As far as they know, the issue of ozone-friendly replacement chemicals “has received virtually no attention from the mass media. That may be partly due to a kind of mental compartmentalization: the people who were mobilizing to cope with ozone depletion-the widening of the ozone hole-were, so focused on reducing the huge quantities of CFCs being released into the atmosphere that they ignored the dangers of chemicals being prepared to replace them.” When new ozone-friendly hydrocarbon technology came along, “the media were thrown off by a disinformation campaign in which the conventional refrigerator manufacturers used scare tactics to try to kill off the new market.”

Ayres and French believe the general public could create a demand for the new technology just as the Europeans have, if it was aware that “the new ‘CFC-free’ refrigerators and air conditioners still contain other ozone-destroying chemicals and highly potent greenhouse gases, but that a newer technology being used in Europe is completely benign. The new market could make an important reduction both in the [environmental] damage being done to the Earth’s radiation shield and in the accumulation of greenhouse gases that may be causing climate change.”

When asked whose interests are served by the lack of media attention given to ozone-friendly replacements, the authors replied: “Refrigerator and air-conditioner manufacturers and chemical companies that bet on the wrong horse when it was time to replace CFCs now want to make sure their horse is the only one in the race …. The chemical companies especially benefit by making HFC and HCFC replacements for CFCs that are patentable. We believe that these companies don’t want the new, cleaner technology to prevail because it uses a process that is in the public domain, and that they therefore can’t make as much profit from it.”

Chris Bright, senior editor of World Watch, believes the issue covered in his piece, “Ozone Repair,” has not received sufficient attention by mainstream (particularly U.S. broadcast) media, due to “the difficulty that television news especially has in covering complex and long-term environmental issues, like ozone depletion. Television news likes its stories simple, short, and generally close to home,” says Bright, “but I think the greatest issues of our day—issues like the loss of biodiversity or the failure to achieve environmental justice in much of the world—tend to be messy, chronic, and very diffuse.”