The Unintended Consequences of Montreal

Photo of a refrigerator.Apparently, the process intended to curb global warming by eliminating chloroflourocarbons (otherwise known as CFCs) wasn’t quite as easy as it first looked. Replacing CFCs have caused some unanticipated consequences, namely making the global warming problem worse. CFCs, commonly found in older refrigerators and aerosol canisters, are used as propellants and fire suppressants, among many other uses, and have been essentially illegal since the Montreal Protocol was put into force in 1989.

Some of the replacement chemicals whose use has grown because of the Montreal treaty – hydrochloroflourocarbons, or HCFCs, and their byproducts, hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs – decompose faster than CFCs because they contain hydrogen.

But, like CFCs, they are considered potent greenhouse gases that harm the climate – up to 10,000 times worse than carbon dioxide emissions.

The Kyoto treaty’s goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, motor vehicles and other sources that burn fossil fuels by about 1 billion tons by 2015.

Use of HCFCs and HFCs is projected to add the equivalent of 2 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by the same year, U.N. climate experts said in a recent report. The CFCs they replace also would have added that much.

“But now the question is, who’s going to ensure that the replacements are not going to cause global warming?” said Alexander von Bismarck, campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit watchdog group in London and Washington, D.C. “It’s shocking that so far nobody’s taking responsibility.”

“A massive opportunity to help stave off climate change is currently being cast aside,” he said.

The U.N. report says the atmosphere could be spared the equivalent of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions if countries used ammonia, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide or other ozone-friendly chemicals, rather than HCFCs and HFCs, in foams and refrigerants. Such alternatives are more common in Europe.

— “Ozone fixes prove worse for warming”, The Associated Press, August 21, 2006

Solutions, however well intentioned, must always be crafted in such a way as to ensure that implementing that solution always has a net positive impact. Certainly, the elimination of CFC is a good thing – with unintended side effects. The Montreal Protocol was somewhat short-sighted by only targeting CFCs in its ban, but was an essential starting point. It’s time to go further and ensure that ozone-depleting substances are phased out entirely, no matter what their use or origin.

Road Trip

I will be departing September 3rd for a road trip from Olympia to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and will likely be blogging the endeavor.  I’ve decided that I probably won’t be using this blog to do it, though – stay tuned for further details and a link to be posted to whatever I decide to do.  This will be a three day drive with a four night stay and a three or four day return, depending on what route is taken.  I’m definitely looking forward to it!

NY Times: Price Spikes Not Enough To Change All Attitudes (Yet)

The  New York Times today has an op/ed piece on the lessons of Prudhoe Bay – in it is a very well-stated paragraph:

Until we have marketable alternatives to oil, the only thing that will truly reduce Americans’ vulnerability to oil shocks is reduced demand. According to the nonprofit National Environmental Trust, if Americans had started a 10-year phase-in of 40-mile-a-gallon driving standards in 2001, they would already be saving 267 million barrels of oil a year. That’s nearly twice the amount produced annually at the Prudhoe Bay field. [ed.: emphasis added]

“Lessons from Prudhoe Bay”, New York Times, August 9, 2006

Despite this, another New York Times article reports:

Yet Americans’ overall gasoline appetite has barely budged. Total use this year is up about one-half percent to 1 percent compared with 2005, according to federal figures — a slower rate of growth than in the past, but hardly the mark of a nation with its foot fully on the brake.

— “Gas Prices Alter Habits of Many, but Far From All”, New York Times, August 9, 2006

Will it take prices rising to $4/gallon or more in order to make us wake up and see the problem?  If it does, it does – I can only hope that prices rise sooner rather than later.

Oil Field Shutdown a Boon for Alternative Energy

With the shutdown of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil fields, the nation, particularly the West Coast, could be faced with sharply increasing oil prices:

The average U.S. retail price of a gallon of unleaded, regular gasoline was $3.036 on today — near its all-time high of $3.057, reached Sept. 5 after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

“I suspect that record will fall in the next 48 hours,” said Tom Kloza, an analyst at Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J., noting that pump prices around the country are likely to rise 5 to 10 cents a gallon.

— “Oil prices spike on news of Alaskan field shutdown”, Associated Press, August 7, 2006

My only reaction to this is positive. With oil prices pushing higher, the nature of our oil addiction will become more and more painfully obvious to those who would deny it. This is the perfect opportunity to inform people of and adopt alternative energy technologies, and as gas prices climb higher, awareness must inevitably increase. Part of the problem is due to politicians who turn a blind eye towards a sound energy policy, but part of it is also due to our own blindness. But let’s not take this time to point fingers. The best time to act is now:

  • Encourage legislators to adopt a coherent alternative energy policy on a state-by-state and nationwide basis. Movements such as the Apollo Alliance have started this, but it takes a grassroots campaign to truly do this well.
  • Whenever possible, decrease your energy footprint by turning off lights and unneeded appliances. Those lights you see on your appliances when they’re off indicate that they still draw energy – turn appliances off at the surge protector or unplug them entirely.
  • Demand the adoption of better mass transit systems that decrease or eliminate the need for cars in city cores.
  • Work with friends and neighbors to help them better understand what they can do to help decrease their energy bills.

Energy independence begins with individual actions at home and grows from there. This oil field shutdown offers another clear reason why we cannot continue to depend on oil – foreign or otherwise – to support our lifestyles.

What’s Your Ecological Footprint?

Take the quiz at and post it as a comment. My results are as follows:

FOOD 6.9




Oil Grades Make a Difference

I recently had to take my 2004 Prius in for emergency maintenance because of a soft squealing that had been happening for the last few days when the car was at speed (pretty much anything over 10mph).  I decided, since my maintenance required warning light was on, that I might as well also get an oil change.  After paying for the maintenance (some rocks got stuck in my brake pads), I noticed an odd little line on my invoice.

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