When I was growing up in the South, during the 1960s, I spent a good bit of time being confused. In school I learned about the Civil Rights movement and was told we were all part of the "brotherhood of man." When the school bell rang at 2:25, I would often find a world that was considerably different. The nightly television news confirmed that over and over again.

Today, I'm confused, but for different reasons. I've read the scientific arguments on both sides of the global warming issue. I am sure, however, that science and statistical studies have one very real thing in common - they can be manipulated to serve the user's purpose.

So, I wonder, what if the release of our industry's refrigerants into the atmosphere really is contributing to a global warming problem?

Proponents of the global warming scenario say that the increasing level of greenhouse gases will cause the earth's surface temperature to rise from 2 degrees to 6 degrees F in the next 100 years. Some opponents refute such a hypothesis as purely overstated myth.

For instance, some argue the huge heat-holding capacity of the ocean is not taken into account. Oceans represent 72 percent of the earth's surface, and have over 1,000 times the thermal mass of our atmosphere.

Rainfall puts heat from the lower atmosphere back into the ocean. Some experts argue that the oceans have such a great heat-holding capacity that in a 100-year time span, they can absorb a significant imbalance without changing temperature.

Still, there are other scientists who report that the ocean temperature has indeed risen about 0.1 degrees over the last 50 years, and that the responsibility for this occurrence can be placed squarely at the feet of mankind.

Well, perhaps it is so. However, it does make one wonder how would a scientist get truly accurate temperature measurements when the size of what you're trying to measure is 140 million square miles.

Now you may understand why I am confused.

The Industry's Impact

So, I wonder, what if the release of our industry's refrigerants into the atmosphere really is contributing to a global warming problem? Oh, I already asked that question once, didn't I?

Some of us think that it really doesn't matter; some of us think that it does. It depends upon which scientific information we are most persuaded by, and upon our own beliefs and biases.

Recent information suggests that the amount of refrigerant produced for our industry's consumption is not being recovered at the same level. This isn't scientific theory - it is measurable. What? Our industry recovers, recycles, and reclaims refrigerants, does it not? Evidently, not to the extent that it should.

Sorry, this might hit close to home, but with the exception of a small amount of refrigerant that is leaked from equipment, most of the refrigerant in our atmosphere is being released by people who carry refrigerant gauges and recovery tanks on their service vehicles.

It is interesting that the lion's share of credentialing or licensing tests given within our industry appear to be for refrigerant handling, in compliance with Section 608 of the Clean Air Act.

Many contractors also spend a good amount of time keeping refrigerant records, and some have even been fined for the mishandling of refrigerants. However, the estimated leakage and venting rate in the United States is running higher than those in some other countries.

The issue may not be as black and white as "Gilligan's Island" appeared on a lazy afternoon down South, but like the evening news of the 1960s, the stark realities of the world truly come into focus.

Whether we are confused, in agreement with, or in disagreement with the science of global warming and the role played by our industry, it is likely that in the near future there will be a greater emphasis placed upon recovery of refrigerants in America.

Research sources for this opinion piece included: Richard C. Kozinski, www.imcool.com; Patrick Murphy, NATE vice president of certification.

Mike Murphy is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), or mikemurphy@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 05/16/2005