In a finding that would be laughable if it weren’t so scary, scientists have determined that the chemicals which helped avoid a potential global environmental catastrophe—the hole in the ozone layer—are contributing to another one: global warming.
The compounds in question are hydrofluorocarbons, also known as HFCs.
They were introduced a decade ago as replacements for chlorofluorocarbons, ozone-depleting gases that had been used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and the production of foam insulation.
The ozone hole is shrinking all right, but hydrofluorocarbons are basically greenhouse gases on steroids: molecule for molecule, they have 5,000 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.
And unless we find replacements for the replacements, scientists warn these puppies can cancel out other efforts to combat global warming.
“Whatever targets you thought you were going to make,” David Fahey, a physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the Washington Post, “it will be undermined by the fact that you have . . . additional emissions that you hadn’t planned on.”
Hydroflurocarbons now account for nearly 2% of US-based climate-warming emissions, according to the EPA. Good old carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, is responsible for 85% of the problem. Methane, which comes from farm animals (don’t ask) and decomposing trash causes most of the rest.
But the HFC problem is growing rapidly. By 2050, scientists believe, HFCs in the atmosphere will be equivalent to about 6 years’ worth carbon dioxide emissions.
“You have this moment when you could nip this problem in the bud and avoid this very large growth of a dangerous chemical,” David Doniger, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate center told the Post. “Now, in the next couple of years, is when you have to do this.”