Explained in 90 Seconds: Your Fridge Is Accelerating Climate Change—But It Doesn’t Have To


The outward statecraft of the recent G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, was dominated by disagreements over Syria. But behind the scenes, leaders were busy agreeing on something they rarely find common ground on: climate change. Thirty-five nations and the European Union decided to curb hydrofluorocarbons, a set of powerful heat-trapping gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning, heat pumps, and insulation. This follows a deal earlier this year between China and the United States, in which President Obama and President Xi agreed to limit these greenhouse gases.

?So, what are HFCs and why are they important to climate change?

Yes, carbon dioxide is the big culprit when it comes to climate change. HFCs represent only a small fraction of total greenhouse gasesand they are short-lived compared to CO2but they pack a real punch in terms of what scientists call “global warming potential,” which they rate as many hundred times more powerful than that of carbon dioxide.

Bucking the general international trend in climate talks, there’s actually a history of agreement about limiting these types of gases. When scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer in the 1980s, the world came together to sign the Montreal Protocol, phasing out the use of ozone-killing chlorofluorocarbons; that treaty is now universally ratified, and the ozone layer is recovering. Their industrial replacements were HFCs, and while these gases didn’t attack the ozone layer—Earth’s precious protective shield—they still trap a lot of heat, adding to global warming. Scientists say that if HFCs aren’t curbed in the same way as their CFC cousins, this whole family of gasescalled halocarbonscould accelerate the next century’s expected warming by about 20 years.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.