Solutions journalism is news about how communities and organizations are responding to social and environmental problems. This collection contains solutions stories about methods to capture and dispose of toxic refrigerants and innovative approaches to cooling without chemicals. From a UK-based company recycling refrigerators, to private businesses using the voluntary carbon market to offset their footprint, the systems described in these stories trap HFCs before they escape into the atmosphere. And stories about a district energy systems in Malaysia and a zero-energy brick and charcoal fruit cooler in Kenya highlight new technologies that sustainably maintain cold.
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Want to use some or all of these stories in a classroom or community setting? Here are some questions to get you started. Or make a copy of this collection and create your own.
- Why is refrigerant management such an important tool in fighting climate change?
- Explain what a district heating system is. How does it work in principle?
- Describe the potential economic benefits of alternative ways of cooling, especially regarding cash crops in developing countries.
- Does your campus have a refrigeration management policy through Facilities Management? What is it? How do they dispose of campus refrigerant? What are the other energy policies in place on your campus? What might you and your peers in this class do to influence these policies?
- Properly disposing of refrigerators and air conditioners in homes when they need replacing is a significant action individuals can take to avoid contributing to climate change. Does your home have air conditioning, or your dorm room or apartment? How old is the unit or system? Is it properly maintained to avoid leaks? What about the refrigerator? Explore the climate change impact of these appliances and what you can do to reduce it.
Inside every refrigerator and air conditioning unit are chemical refrigerants that are harmful to the atmosphere. The ozone-damaging refrigerants - CFCs and HCFCs - were banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The replacement chemical - HFCs - may spare the ozone, but they contribute to a different problem. According to Project Drawdown, HFCs are a climate change disaster with a "1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide." Project Drawdown estimates that 90 percent of these emissions happen at the end of the HFC life-cycle.
Here are answers to the discussion questions:
- Full implementation of the Refrigeration Management goals would result in the reduction of almost 90 gigatons of CO2, making it the most extensive reduction in all of Project Drawdown. Over 30 years, containing 87% of all refrigerants would achieve that 90 gigaton figure. In October 2016, officials from more than 170 countries met in Kigali, Rwanda, to negotiate a deal to address this problem. The goal is to phase out HFC's in wealthy countries by 2024 and in developing countries by 2030. If the Kigali Accord was fully implemented, that would result in additional carbon reductions between 25 and 78 gigatons, a huge figure. Scientists estimate the Kigali accord will reduce global warming by nearly one degree Fahrenheit. Additionally, there are new refrigerant substitutes already on the market, including natural refrigerants such as propane and ammonium.
- Unlike conventional air-conditioning and heating systems, district energy systems consist of a network of underground pipes that pump hot or cold water to multiple buildings in a district, neighborhood or city. They are able to use larger sources of heating and cooling, such as waste heat from power stations, which cannot be connected to a single building. According to UN Environment, transitioning to district energy systems can help cities to reduce their primary energy consumption for heating and cooling by up to 50 percent. They also form the central infrastructure for many cities’ 100 percent renewables or carbon neutral targets.
- By using charcoal and brick refrigeration systems, rural farmers in tropical countries can keep their produce fresh for up to 15 days longer, greatly extending their opportunity to sell the produce. The systems are relatively cheap to produce, and pay for themselves within a short period of time. These systems also relieve stress on the supply chain, giving farmers extra time to transport and store their goods. With the addition of waxing techniques, these farmers are now able to convert a much higher percentage of their crop to profit.
- Answers will vary.
- Answers will vary.