This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gases That Cool Us and Our Food Heat Up the Planet--We've Got to Stop These Guys!

...And a new global treaty is aimed at doing just that. Yesterday in Kigala, Rwanda, 170 nations reached a legal agreement to cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)--gases that are used extensively in refrigeration and air conditioning. As the NYTimes notes:
HFCs are just a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but they function as a sort of supercharged greenhouse gas, with 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide.
The Kigali deal was seven years in the making, and is a compromise between rich nations and poorer, hotter ones, including some where rising incomes are just starting to bring air-conditioners within reach. Wealthier nations will freeze production of HFCs more quickly than poorer countries, though some nations, including those in Africa, elected to phase the chemicals out more rapidly than required, citing the grave threats they face from climate change.
Refrigeration and air conditioning have been around for only a few decades--within my lifetime, but they have revolutionized how and where we live. This wouldn't be a huge problem for the planet except for the fact that the population has tripled in size over this period of time, and almost everyone has more income than they used to. This latter point is a good thing in the abstract, but it means that the demands on resources have been growing even faster than the population, leading to the global worry about key side-effects such as global warming. 
The deal is an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the landmark 1987 pact designed to close the hole in the ozone layer by banning ozone-depleting coolants called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. That means the Kigali amendment maintains the legal force of a treaty, even if that treaty was ratified by the Senate during the Reagan administration.
Chemical companies responded to the 1987 agreement by developing HFCs, which do not harm the ozone layer but do trap heat in the atmosphere.
Fortunately, the chemical industry appears to be on board, and so there is a lot of work going on to find appropriate substitute for HFCs.
Top officials from the chemical industry were in Kigali to push for the deal. “Our industry is hard at work doing the research on the HFC alternatives,” said Stephen Yurek, the chief executive of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, an advocacy group. “Getting that right is certainly as important as reaching agreement.”
This is all very encouraging, especially in the current political environment where there are so many people who seem to want to deny that climate change is happening or, at the least, that humans have anything to do with it. 

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