Environment & Science

Coolant replacements now believed a greater global warming threat

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A new study projects hydrofluorocarbons could speed global warming more than previously thought. Those chemicals mostly replaced other gases believed to destroy the atmosphere. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports some scientists now believe they’re problematic too.

Hydrocarbon gases act as coolants in air conditioning and refrigeration, especially in developing countries. They replaced another kind of chemical gas, chlorofluorocarbons, which destroy ozone in earth’s atmosphere. But hydrocarbons are also strong greenhouse gases, really good at trapping heat.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dutch and American scientists say more use of hydrocarbons could counterbalance efforts to cut other greenhouse gases. The U.S. and other countries have floated the idea of banning the increasingly popular hydrocarbons the way their cousins were already. But higher profile greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, tend to get more attention, and the discussion’s on the back burner.