Wednesday, February 28, 2007

HCFC-22, CFCs and everything "nice"

It looks like HCFC-22 made it to the headlines once again. Also known as Chlorodifluoromethane, halocarbon R22 or Freon 22, HCFC-22 was used as an alternative to the not-so-ozone-friendly CFC's in air-conditioners and roof top conditioning. Although it is only 5% as harmful as the CFC's, the increasing use of air conditioners around the globe, especially in India and southern China, has put scientists into really speculating the extent of ozone depletion.
Having lived in India for a while, I know the number of air conditioners one house can install for a mere family. Even when there's no one present in the house, the conditioning goes on, almost 24/7 (I say almost, because if people had their way, they would have it on all day, but power outtages don't seem to be on their side). My father made it a point never to have an A/C. We used the ol' cooler or evaporative coolers, which functioned on the basic principle of water evaporation. You can read about such coolers here. We had the money to get our entire house centrally air-conditoned, but we never did (Oh, the memories we have of standing in front of the coolers and doing kareoke...). It saved electricity, and it was a lot more environment-friendly. One big one placed strategically, and you have the entire house cooled within seconds (and it stays cool long after you've turned it off).

I'm not going to play the blame game and say I'm the most eco-friendly person you'll ever come across and everyone else is to blame for using air-conditioners. But its time we all stand up together and realize the consequences. My question is this: Why not use evaporative coolers? Instead of scientists looking for another gas that is maybe 2% as harmful as CFC's, why don't we do our part and utilize much more environment friendly air conditioning methods? I don't really care about the advantages an A/C has over a cooler. They aren't many and not very substantial either (especially when it comes to doing your part in not depleting the ozone layer).

People might well, argue like always do and whine about why they're the ones to blame, when the rest of the world uses the same technology, and might continue to do so if they did change. The answer, as it always is is BE THE CHANGE TO SEE CHANGE. Why China and India? Because these two countries have the most populous as of now (and by a huge margin from the third most populous country). They are also in the warmer regions, so they require air conditioning of some sort. The label of Its only 5% as harmful as the CFCs doesn't work in the countries's favor either because of the enormous amounts of HCFC-22 let out by the billions of air-conditioners used.

The problem is that a lot of the developing countries enjoy the backseat when it comes to global warming and environmental issues. Many companies help these countries to come up with newer chemicals, but fails to manufacture newer and environ-friendly chemicals. Everything that is environ-friendly is expensive and obviously, no one buys something expensive when you can get the same job done at a much lower price. This low-cost job doesn't consider environmental aspects, but it gets the job done. CFCs are still in the market in India (as I got to know when I was there over winter break). They are cheaper, and people using older cars prefer their air-conditioners to be fixed the old way. No one really seemed to give a rat's ass about the environment or how much CFC is being let out by just one car.

Then they say its legal because people are still selling it and a majority of the people are using it. Yes, its still sold. So are drugs to minors. In Gore's documentary, An Inconvinient Truth, the developed nations are targetted to a large extent. It's the western hemisphere that takes 80% of the blame for whatever holes we have in the ozone layer and the marine life at risk due to oil spills, etc etc. But it IS the world we're talking about, right? And whether the country's developed or under-developed... is it not part of the globe? Does the label of "developing" give the country the right to pollute at everyone's expense? I don't think so. When it comes to the environment, everyone is to blame or be patted on the back. The environment has no boundries. And so shouldn't the people in it create any on such issues that concern humanity as a whole.

It's HCFC-22 now. R-410A next. And something else after a decade. Is that the answer then? A better than worse answer? For how long can we keep fooling ourselves that some better man-made chemical can solve all our environmental issues? Has ANY man-made chemical benefitted the environment for long? Sadly, no.

Personally, I sort of dislike blogging about global warming/environmetal issues because I know once a reader sees the "global warming" tag, they think "how boring", or even "here we go again, another rant". I blog about something I care, maybe make people think for a bit, but then you hit the "Next Blog" button and you've forgotten everything. Also a lot of such rants make people think "All they do is yap/talk. No one acts on it. If they were taking some action, they wouldn't be blogging about it here now would they?" True. I don't drive an electric car, neither do I avoid air-conditioned malls, but that doesn't mean I don't care. I still recycle. I still avoid yellow bulbs and turn off all lights whenever possible. I still never drive over 70mph (that is the speed at which the fuel has the highest efficiency). I never waste food, water. Maybe it is the way I was brought up because I saw a lot of people not have what I have and it made me thankful for what I was given and all the stories I've read of the consequences of the little things we do. But what I'm trying to say is, if at all this post or any documentary concerning our environment you see... give it the honor of some thought and implement tiny changes in your life that can make a huge difference if it becomes a habit.

I'd also like to mention the whole idea of the Daylight Savings time being shifted almost a month earlier. The idea behind it is noble and saves a lot of electricity all over the United States. It's a step towards change and a good start to changing our habits. Quote: "Energy savings was the reason given for the addition of four weeks. A California Energy Commission document said studies have generally found that longer daylight hours save money on electricity because people run fewer lights when the sun is shining." (Day Time Will Be Early - Get Set, San Fransisco Chronicle)

So that's my rant for tonight. Let's begin the new month with one change.

Picture courtesy: In the middle of a shave, O Kyoto by Nik Scott


2lrbl said...

Agree with the intent of the article, but well there is one problem with the suggestion.... Coolers don't work in most places in india. Coolers work in dry areas only, like delhi or the interiors, or rajasthan.

Coolers donot work in humid areas, this is because coolers work by creating humidity... but all along india's coast the humidity is mostly above 90%, so what is the point of creating humidity.

I know this because I am from a very umid place too....

2lrbl said...

wanted to add that inn essence, of the four metros, coolers would not work in 3 of them - mumbai, chennai and kolkata... the dry places where coolers can be used, they are used pretty extensively. Maybe things have changed bit nowadays...

Mia said...

The weather condition did strike me after I wrote this out 2lrbl :\ But you see the problem? When we didn't have the AC's, people were still alive, breathing, breeding. But then the pollution levels increased and soon enough, we had to turn to technology to create something that would put our minds at ease. But not do something about the pollution?! It's all bloody inter-connected if you ask me. I'm not STOP using AC's. It would be like telling a 21 year-old on their birthday not to drink in the US! But use it responsibly, not 24/7. I don't really get the point of having the entire house air-conditioned, when only the bedrooms require it.

One of the factors that drove me to write this was a lady commenting somewhere that the number of AC's you have in the house reflects on how "well off" you are. I know how image conscious people are, but that statement really bothered me. Other reasons were random, but pretty big.