Magazine article Earth Island Journal

China Chills Out

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

China Chills Out

Article excerpt

There are only a few products that are selling faster than automobiles in China at the moment, and one of them is air conditioners. As has been the case with many modern conveniences making their way to China, air-conditioning has become a way for upwardly mobile Chinese to let their friends and neighbors know their fortunes are on the rise. Consequently, sales of air-conditioning units have tripled in the country over the last decade, and the number is expected to reach 35 million this year, making China the largest producer and consumer of air conditioners in the world. To put those numbers in perspective, about 70 million US homes have air-conditioning.

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China's air-conditioning boom may be good news for its economy--but it's bad news for the climate. The lifeblood of air-conditioning units is refrigerant. While most countries (including China and the United States) have phased out the use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons as refrigerants, they have largely been replaced by hydrofluorocarbons, which are fiber greenhouse gases with a global warming potential more than 1,400 times greater than carbon dioxide. Add to that the fact that the installation of more air-conditioning units equates to greater energy demands to keep them all running (and in China that typically means more coal-fired power), and what seems like a simple luxury cool air on a sweltering summer day--becomes an environmental nightmare.

Fortunately, the Chinese government is moving to do something about it, at least on the energy front. …

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