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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Equivalent ain't
October 22, 2009 - 3:31pm

(On the way to work: "My Roots Are Showing" by Natalie MacMaster. If this doesn't do it for you, check your pulse -- you might be dead!)

One of the complicating factors in efforts to date to reduce GHG emissions is their "one size fits all" attitude. Not so much "one size fits all participants" as "one size fits all gases". The truth of the matter is that while all GHG emissions can be expressed in "CO2 equivalency" in order to roll each GHG inventory up to a single number, the sources of -- and so the steps needed to reduce -- three of the six "Kyoto gases" are in a class by themselves.

I'm talking about fluorinated GHGs -- sulphur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Each of these has a "radiative forcing factor" (think of it as a multiplier to calculate CO2 equivalency); most of these factors are in the range of 1,000-22,800.

For colleges and universities, fluorinated GHG emissions are pretty rare -- generally the result of coolant loss from chillers and other industrial equipment. Indeed, most of the emissions of these gases result from leakage during their use in industrial processes. Unlike CO2, methane and nitrous, these gases don't get generated from fossil fuel combustion.

Since viable substitutes are available for all fluorinated GHGs, eliminating their emissions is a matter of mandating that their use be discontinued. The world has a successful model for doing just that -- the Montreal Protocol which mandated the phased elimination of CFCs and HCFCs, and which has been very successful in eliminating the problem of stratospheric ozone depletion.

The recent WBGU report recommends just such an approach. What I like about it is its inherently conservative nature ("let's not reinvent the wheel") as well as the fact that treating different GHGs differently, by its very nature, communicates the complexity of the problem better than does lumping everything in together. It demonstrates reasonability. And reasonability has been in short supply.


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