A few months ago, I was having breakfast at the Europa Café, a little buffet place in the massive West Edmonton Mall (largest in North America, they say). I was in Edmonton, Alberta, for the 66th Conference of Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) Canada. I was glancing through theEdmonton Journalnewspaper when a headline jumped off the page: “Tories Link Kyoto To Economic Disaster.”

The first paragraph said, “Tempers flared Thursday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a new report that warned of skyrocketing energy prices and a crippling recession to justify its decision to walk away from Canada’s international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.”

Once again, a topic we in the HVACR industry have been grappling with was making headlines well beyond the industry trade press. The more famous Montreal Protocol of the 1980s dealt with efforts to reduce use of ozone-depleting chemicals and the United States joined much of the rest of the world in signing off on that.

The Kyoto Protocol of the 1990s dealt with global warming issues that the United States did not sign off on although much of the rest of the world - including Canada - did. The only problem is that much of the rest of the world apparently is not going to reach the greenhouse gas emission curtailment they said they would reach under Kyoto.

Based on what I read in several columns on the topic in theEdmonton Journal, Canada may not even give it a try on what amounts to both political and economic reasons. Kyoto was signed when the Liberal Party (somewhat equivalent to the U.S. Democratic Party) was in power. Now the Tories - or Conservative - Party (somewhat akin to the U.S. Republican Party) is in power and apparently want little to do with what the Liberal Party wanted.

Then there is the economic argument which seems to say that Kyoto may be a good thing environmentally - but at the expense of the economy.

“This (Conservative) party has no intention of doing anything that is going to destroy Canadian jobs or damage the health of this economy,” Harper was quoted as saying. The newspaper quoted a government report that said, “The economy could shrink by 6.5 percent, driving up the cost of electricity and gasoline by more than 50 percent and causing nearly 300,000 Canadians to lose their jobs,” if Canada tried to meet “its Kyoto obligations of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent under such a scenario.”

Others claim the figures form a doomsday scenario and other factors - including new technologies - could actually allow for the country to meet its Kyoto goals while still having economic growth.

I began to better understand this Kyoto versus economics issue as I walked from the café to the hotel that adjoins the mall where the RSES Canada meetings were being held.

The mall covers a gross area of 5.3 million feet and most of the roof is a massive skylight. There are 600 or so stores, each with their own HVAC needs. There are close to 100 restaurants, each with heating, cooling, refrigeration, and ventilation needs. There is what is said to be the world’s largest indoor water park covering five acres with challenging dehumidification needs and the need for 500 hp just to drive five wave panels to create 6-foot waves. Smack-dab in the middle of the mall is a National Hockey League-regulation size ice rink with its unique refrigeration and humdification-dehumidification issues. And all this in a city that has had summer temperatures reach 99°F and once a winter reading of –57°; and that relies primarily on the burning of a fossil fuel - coal - for power generation.

Then there is the automobile emission issue with jammed roadways leading to a parking lot for 22,000 cars. (In fact, there are signs along at least one roadway warning of “high collision areas.”)

So proponents and opponents of Kyoto in Canada are facing some real challenges. For proponents, if reduction in greenhouse gases means reduction of fossil fuel burning used to create power and curtailment of automotive emissions what does that mean to the biggest economic engine of the entire region if not all of Alberta - the West Edmonton Mall?

And to opponents, how do you weigh the importance of a strong economy in a fragile natural environment that could well be negatively affected by global warming?

There is no easy answer and even a compromise may not be the answer.

Publication date:06/04/2007