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cfcs or co2...which is worse?

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

in the general dialogue on global warming issues, it is my impression that talk of co2 predominates.  from the evils of cow farts to coal plant emissions, we are consumed by attempts to reduce atmospheric co2.

 

i'm reading this terrific pop psych book (bill bryson's "a short history of nearly everything"), and its making me think again about CFCs

 

CFCs are a synthetically produced gas that, as an industrial product, went into production in the early 1930s and was used in everything from car air conditioners to aerosol cans.  most of us remember this from fifth grade science.  CFCs were prohibited from production in the US in 1974 because they are enormously destructive.

 

according to the book, CFCs are not very abundant (only constituting 1/billion of the atmosphere as a whole), but are "extravagantly destructive. One pound of CFCs can capture and annihilate seventy thousand pounds of atmospheric ozone. CFCs can also hang around for a long time -- about a century on average -- wrecking havoc all the while. They are also great heat sponges. A single CFC molecule is about 10,000 times more efficient at exacerbating greenhouse effects than a molecule of CO2...in short, CFCs may ultimately prove to be about the worst invention of the 20th century."

 

as i mentioned, CFCs were banned from the US in 1974.  but they won't be banned from 3rd world countries until 2010.  In the meantime, we're still introducing huge amounts into our atmosphere.  according to the book, 60 million pounds of the stuff -- worth $1.5 billion -- still makes itself onto the market every year, mostly manufactured by large corps at their overseas plants.

 

my question is -- instead of worry about cow farts and other CO2 emissions, should we be relatively more concerned about CFCs?  why are they a smaller part of the larger dialogue on global warming???????

 

post #2 of 4
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lola:

A single CFC molecule is about 10,000 times more efficient at exacerbating greenhouse effects than a molecule of CO2...my question is -- instead of worry about cow farts and other CO2 emissions, should we be relatively more concerned about CFCs?  why are they a smaller part of the larger dialogue on global warming???????

 


 

While a CFC molecule has a much greater global warming potential than a CO2 molecule, because CO2 is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, we produce vastly more CO2 than CFCs.  They're even dwarfed by methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

 

As you noted, industrialized countries banned and phased out CFCs thanks to the Montreal Protocol.  It's true some 3rd world countries still produce them, but at relatively low levels.  This is evident by the fact that the hole in the ozone layer has begun recovering.

 

The main difference is that we've already regulated CFCs, now we need to do the same for CO2.

post #3 of 4
Thread Starter 

what is that current level of production (60 million pounds a year) going to?

 

is there anything we can do in the meantime to continue halting/controlling the effects of CFCs?  or do we just have to wait until they naturally wane?

 

thanks dana!

 

 

post #4 of 4
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lola:

what is that current level of production (60 million pounds a year) going to?

 

is there anything we can do in the meantime to continue halting/controlling the effects of CFCs?  or do we just have to wait until they naturally wane?

 

thanks dana!

 

 


 

Well humans emit about 30 billion tons of CO2 per year which is about 67 trillion pounds.   A CFC molecule weighs about 4 times more than a CO2 molecule, so we emit about 4.5 million times more CO2 molecules than CFC molecules.  Since CFC molecules have 10,000 times the global warming potential of CO2, that means those CFC emissions cause about 0.22% (one-450th) the amount of global warming as our CO2 emissions.

 

As for their effects, similarly to CO2, pretty much all we can do is reduce our emissions and wait for the molecules' atmospheric lifetime to end.  With CO2 you can take some other steps like planting trees, and there have been some other proposals on how to remove some CO2 from the atmosphere, but not much.  I don't think there are any such ideas for CFC removal.

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