Saturday, February 24, 2007

Air Conditioners in India

We need to keep in mind the huge impact of a rapidly modernizing third world, soon to be first in pollution, as we still barely are with China nipping at our heels.

February 23, 2007
As Asia Keeps Cool, Scientists Worry About the Ozone Layer

MUMBAI, India — Until recently, it looked like the depleted ozone layer protecting the earth from harmful solar rays was on its way to being healed.

But thanks in part to an explosion of demand for air-conditioners in hot places like India and southern China — mostly relying on refrigerants already banned in Europe and in the process of being phased out in the United States — the ozone layer is proving very hard to repair.

Four months ago, scientists discovered that the “hole” created by the world’s use of ozone-depleting gases — in aerosol spray cans, aging refrigerators and old air-conditioners — had expanded again, stretching once more to the record size of 2001.

An unusually cold Antarctic winter, rather than the rise in the use of refrigerants, may have caused the sudden expansion, which covered an area larger than North America.

But it has refocused attention on the ozone layer, which protects people and other animals as well as vegetation from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Now, the world’s atmospheric scientists are concerned that the air-conditioning boom sweeping across Asia could lead to more serious problems in the future.

As it turns out, the fastest-growing threat to the ozone layer can be traced to people like Geeta Vittal, a resident of this hot, thriving metropolis of 18 million, who simply wants to be cooler and can now afford to make that dream a reality.

When her husband first proposed buying an air-conditioner eight years ago, Mrs. Vittal opposed it as a wasteful luxury. But he bought it anyway, and she liked it so much that when the Vittals moved last year to a new apartment, Mrs. Vittal insisted that five air-conditioners be installed before they moved in.

“All my friends have air-conditioners now,” she said. “Ten years ago, no one did.”

Rising living standards throughout India and China, the world’s two most populous countries and the fastest-growing major economies, have given a lot more people the wherewithal to make their homes more comfortable. The problem is that Mrs. Vittal’s air-conditioners — along with most window units currently sold in the United States — use a refrigerant called HCFC-22, which damages the ozone.