'End Global Warming' — 'Er, Cooling'

February 2, 2001
The editorial cartoon shows a weary pedestrian battling bitter cold and knee-deep snow. He’s carrying a sign that once said, “End Global Warming” — only he’s crossed out the last word and changed it to read, “End Global Cooling.”

We here in the Chicago area have just come through a record-setting December, both in terms of below-average temperatures and well-above-average snowfalls. On many days during that month, color national weather maps in newspapers and on the Internet showed much of the country shivering in various shades of blue with only a few spots showing any signs of warming red.

All of which begs the question: Whatever happened to the uproar over global warming?

You do remember global warming, don’t you? After the industry responded to the concern over ozone depletion by working on a phase-out of, first, CFCs and then HCFCs, environmentalists raised concern over global warming and put HFCs on the hit list.

Problem was that global warming was a more complex question than ozone depletion. Getting rid of products that are supposed to cause global warming could mean a shift to alternatives that require the burning of more fossil fuels to produce. Those fossil fuels could themselves be creators of global warming. Thus was born the term TEWI (total equivalent warming impact).

So complex is the question that one of the most recent international conferences on the topic was said to have resulted in “the failure of pivotal negotiations aimed at completing a pioneering climate treaty,” according to a report in the Nov. 28, 2000, New York Times.

No Consensus in Sight

The event at the end of November in The Hague sounded more like a free-for-all than a scientific forum. That included a number of environmental groups apparently at odds with each other.

According to the article, “The environmental groups that joined representatives of 175 countries in two weeks of rancorous negotiations…were sharply split. Some favored a pragmatic, if imperfect approach. Others were unyielding, equating compromise with corruption. When these hard-liners ended up working in parallel with business interests who fought the treaty to avoid limits on industrial emissions, the result was deadlock.”

In fact, a whole heck of a lot of fuss at the conference dealt with trees. It seems trees are good for drawing carbon dioxide, which is supposed to help cool the climate. So there was much ado over giving some kind of credits to countries with lots of forests.

All of which seems to say that those concerned about global warming can’t seem to get a handle on what their concerns are, how to have them answered, and how to get a unified voice to even address them.

This is not to create a false sense of security about the future of HFCs. Another climate conference is planned for May in Germany. Phase-out of HFC refrigerants continues to be pushed in some sectors of Europe. Because of that, researchers in both the United States and European countries are looking for alternatives to HFCs. They want to be ready just in case the global warming issue gets a unified voice and HFCs find their way into a phase-out push.

But for now a move from HFCs would require quite a shift in thinking about global warming and a lot of unexpected unity.

Powell is refrigeration editor for The News. He can be reached at 847-622-7260; 847-622-7266 (fax); or (e-mail).