Air conditioners and refrigerators stay cool with the help of super-pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- but not for long, if President Obama has anything to say about it.
HFCs are pretty awful: They can be up to 10,000 times more warming than carbon dioxide, and are being used more and more worldwide. In the U.S. alone, HFC emissions are projected to triple by 2030. The Guardian reports, "HFCs will account for 20% of global warming by mid-century" if we don't do anything to cut back.
That's why on Thursday (Oct. 15), the Obama administration announced an aggressive new plan to phase them out.
It's about time. There's a worldwide effort to keep the long-term global temperature increase to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit "to avoid catastrophic climate change," and Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz recently pointed out that HFCs alone could account for a significant portion of that.
"If we traject the continued used of HFC for cooling etcetera around the world ... we are talking about the equivalent of half a degree centigrade global warming rise,” Moniz told the Guardian. “Let’s face it. We have got a tough road ahead to get down to 2 degrees. This is a half degree, so that is a big deal.”
Obama worked with the EPA to create the new rules, which include changing the way HFCs are sold, handled and recycled to reduce leaks; imposing new deadlines for replacing existing industrial HFCs with more climate-friendly alternatives wherever possible; and partnering with other countries including China, India and Brazil to reduce the use of HFCs worldwide. The White House announced phase one of this plan back in July, but the new rules allow the EPA to step up their game and make the phase-out process faster.
“The White House made it very clear they are going to pull out all the stops to eliminate one of the top six greenhouse gases from the universe,” Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, told the Guardian. “It is encouraging to see what the administration is capable of doing when it marshals all of its resources.”
The Guardian also notes that "Obama’s use of his executive authority has infuriated Republicans. The leading Republican presidential contenders, as well as a majority in Congress, deny climate change is a threat or caused by human activity, and oppose Obama’s efforts to fight it."