Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cold is the new hot

A refrigerator is the big thing in China, and it amounts to a big threat for global warming.

That sounds weird, but it’s true.

The New York Times Magazine for July 27 tells the tale.

Thermo King refrigerated truck
Whereas most American households got a refrigerator by the 1950s, in 1995 only 7 percent of urban Chinese households had a frig—now, the figure is close to 100 percent in China.

Here’s the problem: refrigerators of course use electricity, which is created by largely by burning fossil fuels in China.

Worldwide, electricity to power domestic and commercial refrigeration and cooling accounts for about one-sixth of total demand. Wow.

Here’s the bigger problem: leakage of the refrigerant gas (mostly dangerous hydrofluorocarbons in China) is projected to account for almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

Here’s another thing: in the United States, at least, easy availability of bigger and multiple home refrigerators has created what one researcher calls the “full cupboard effect”: people like you and me tend to fill the frig with food, much of which is spoiled or thrown away uneaten. For fat, comfortable Americans, our refrigerators seem to “serve as cleaner, colder trash bins.”

And by the way, if you were wondering, the first mechanically cooled commercial refrigeration was invented in Boston in 1881.

Keeping things cold is now making the world hotter.

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