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As India Swelters, US Pushes for HFC Ban

International negotiators are meeting this week in Kigali, Rwanda to finalize a ban on heat-trapping hydroflourocarbons (HFCs), the “super greenhouse gases” commonly used in air conditioners and refrigerators. The Obama administration is already touting the coming ban as a major blow against climate change, but for many households in India, there is little to celebrate. The New York Times reports:

The emerging HFC ban, nearly seven years in the making, has not drawn the same kind of attention as last year’s Paris agreement on climate change. And the Kigali talks are focused on a narrow slice of the economy — just the HFCs in air-conditioners and refrigerators.

But the deal, which could be completed this weekend, could have as much or more of an effect on climate change. Unlike the Paris accord, the emerging Kigali agreement will have the force of international law, a legal requirement that rich countries give poor countries money to help them comply, and trade and economic sanctions against countries that do not. […]

But there is no guarantee that Mr. Modi will give Mr. Obama the deal he wants. The president’s rapid timeline pits the planet’s richer, cooler countries against poorer, hotter ones. And among the latter, none has more at stake than India, whose strong economic growth means tens of millions of families will soon be able to afford air-conditioning.

The HFC ban illustrates the inconvenient truth about the prevailing regulatory approach to fighting climate change: such top-down regulation will almost always come at the cost of economic growth, especially in developing countries. President Obama may pat himself on the back if his team negotiates a rapid timeline, but it is ordinary citizens in India who will bear the brunt of the policy.

As the energy expert Ajay Mathur explains in the Times, air conditioning in India is not merely a matter of comfort but a “marker of social mobility.” Whenever salaries in India rise, purchases of air conditioners surge, driving economic growth and bringing a middle-class lifestyle to more Indians. If India agrees to an aggressive phase-out timeline, that growth will come screeching to a halt, and could cost the country between $13 and $38 billion. Although alternatives to HFCs exist, their price point would place air conditioners far out of reach for most Indians—just as the old models are becoming affordable.

If the Obama administration negotiates its preferred version of the HFC ban, it will be more legally binding than the toothless Paris agreement. It may even have a marginal effect on reducing atmospheric warming. But the U.S. should not pretend that it is doing any favors to citizens of poorer countries, who will endure hotter temperatures and emptier pockets in the meantime.

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  • QET

    Things to keep in mind:

    (1) The HFC article linked to in this NYT article says: “Without an amendment, there is little doubt the effects would be devastating, although the science of climate change cannot yet pinpoint the precise damage that would occur. It is not hard to imagine scenarios where avoiding or delaying .9°F of additional warming proves invaluable, especially when paired with further reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.”

    –“there is little doubt” (that phrase always signifies that there is, in fact, doubt);
    –there is little doubt that the effects would be “devastating” but no one can actually tell you how. But don’t let that stop anyone from believing the conclusion. This kind of reasoning is certainly not science. It’s faith.
    –“It is not hard to imagine scenarios.” Confirming that this, like all CAGW hypotheses, is a product of imagination and not science.

    (2) That HFC article also says: “They have become widespread following the phaseout of another refrigerant and aerosol propellant, chlorofluorocarbons, under a 1987 climate treaty known as the Montreal Protocol. CFCs were rapidly depleting the planet’s ozone layer, which shields Earth from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet radiation. The treaty has been enormously successful. Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, has called it “perhaps the single most successful international agreement.” Every member of the United Nations has ratified the protocol, and atmospheric concentrations of CFCs have begun to decrease.”

    The problem is, even *Slate* has debunked the CFC-ozone alarmism. There was no ozone crisis. It was deliberately exaggerated for political effect. This is Slate telling us this!

    Yet as suggested by Slate, the legend of CFCs has been adopted into the mythology of the Left and duly offered as fact.

    (3) “Dollar for dollar, reducing HFCs offers a huge benefit for little comparative cost.” This from the earlier NYT HFC article. But the second NYT article says just the opposite: “A fast phaseout comes with big wins for the United States, since many of the replacement chemicals are manufactured by American chemical companies like Dow and Honeywell. But those manufacturers concede that they are more expensive than HFCs,”

    This is just typical of the Left in the era of short memory and tl;dr. I doubt anyone at the NYT even bothered re-reading the older article before linking to it in the newer article, just to see if there were any inconsistencies. Because they assume, rightly, that their readership won’t bother to do that nor even remember what the first article actually said (assuming they even read that one).

    (4) ““The replacements are more flammable and toxic,” said Stephen Yurek, the president of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, an advocacy organization. “So there is a need to make sure the equipment is better designed and maintained, a need to make sure that when it is installed, it is done correctly and safely. You need better-trained people to do all that, and that will be more expensive.”

    So, not only is the increased cost mentioned a second time, despite the exactly contrary statement in the older NYT article, but the HFC replacement will be “more flammable and toxic.” How nice! Since flammable things tend to burst into flames and toxic things tend to be toxic, we can look forward to some people being killed or injured under the post-HFC regime that wouldn’t have otherwise. Their sacrifice is necessary, I suppose, for “the planet.” Or, if you are inclined to believe (because you are of the faith) that fewer people will die from the flames and toxicity of the HFC replacement than will die from CAGW, then you are still deciding that some must die so that others might live. It’s the Trolley Problem that philosophy has never solved (because there is no solution, kind of like the Kobiyashi Maru Scenario). But before you unleash these flames and toxins on the world, are you certain these HFCs are the threat the CAGW faithful claim imagine them to be? (Recall that the threat so far is imaginary).

    (5) HFCs were once the solution to a problem–the CFC problem. Now HFCs are the problem. Does anyone think that whatever replaces HFCs won’t be a problem in the Left’s imagination in a few years, with a new spate of treaties and NYT articles decrying the replacement? And so on and so on?

  • Jim__L

    A/C in hot places, saves lives.

    Rolling blackouts in California a number of years ago led to deaths.

    Did these environmentalists really think this through?

    • Tom

      Yes. Fewer people is a feature, not a bug.

    • Andrew Allison

      Do environmentalists think? News to me.

  • LarryD

    “… will almost always come at the cost of economic growth, especially in developing countries”

    I believe this was exactly the intention of the Club-of-Rome, and their fellow travelers. All else was piling on by rent seekers and power seekers.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Either outdoor India is getting hotter and will continue getting hotter as a result of climate change, or it isn’t. That drives whether you keep HFCs or work on reducing the price point of alternatives for indoor India.

  • f1b0nacc1

    As the wise and all-knowing (grin) Instapundit has suggested, lets ban air-conditioning in all public buildings in DC first, see how that works out…

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