Peter Powell

Every time major international environmental conferences take place, I have a tendency to wait with baited breath to see how the outcome could negatively affect the way HVACR business is done and the associated cost.

Two fairly recent examples are the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord. As it was, not all that much came from either. Kyoto had many countries pledge to reduce carbon emissions by specific percentages, only to have most of them not meet the targets. Copenhagen ended up with countries saying they should reduce emissions, but without specific targets or any enforcement mechanisms.

Now I find out that such conferences are doomed to fail long before they even take place. At least that was the opinion of Howard Latin, an environmental law professor from the Rutgers Law School in Newark, N.J.

In August, he found his way to rural Ogle County, Ill., some 100 miles southwest of Chicago where he was keynote speaker at the 9th Annual Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, sponsored by the Illinois Renewable Energy Association.

It is primarily a showcase for alternative energy sources such as solar, photovoltaic, wind, and other ways to reduce use of fossil fuels and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Latin’s talk, which drew a large and vocal crowd, was titled, “International Negotiations Stalemate on Global Warming.”

Latin said the stalemate comes from a 1992 Earth Summit, which defined some countries as developed and others as developing.

“Ultimately developed and developing countries have opposite positions,” he said. “There is no common ground. All the two sides do at international conferences is try to strengthen their positions.”

Latin gave what he said were some examples of those opposites: Developing countries contend the developed countries historically caused the greenhouse gas problems, developing countries should not be told to stop developing, they need greenhouse gases to develop, and developed countries should pay for the harm caused by developing countries, the latter, in effect blaming tidal waves and hurricanes on developed countries negatively affecting the environment.

Developed countries counter by saying GHG problems arose before they were aware of them and now are trying to do something about them, developing countries are contributing to GHG woes by deforestation, and developing countries aren’t doing as much as they can. He also drew attention to the contention among many developed countries that there should be a level playing field when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. Latin said the reasoning goes, “If we (developed countries) cut back it will raise the cost of our widgets. If the developing country doesn’t have to (cut back) it will lower their cost of their widgets.”

Latin, by the way, also touched on another worry spot for me - that involves the U.S. Congress unilaterally passing legislation that will negatively affect the HVACR industry. Latin, however, said, “Climate change in the House and Senate is pathetic and weak. Elected officials are afraid of what it will do regarding jobs and the economy.”

The professor’s solution to international conferences involve what he called “a new way or (the conferences) will just go on and on getting nowhere.” He said developed countries “should continue to develop GHG-free technology and share that with the developing countries. Give them money to buy better technology. Just cutting emissions is not going to work. We need better technologies.”

Regardless of how you feel about Latin’s perspective, the idea of heading toward GHG-free and better technology certainly makes sense - and, in fact, is what the HVACR sector is doing every time it comes up with newer and newer generations of leak tight, energy-efficient equipment. We are reducing global warming and saving money for customers.

So I guess the ideal is not to worry about what dastardly deeds might be done at an international conference or in Congress - since it probably won’t happen - and just go ahead providing products that result in both a positive environmental and economic impact.

Publication date:09/06/2010