After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort
by Eric Dean Wilson
The closest we've come to the destruction of all life on earth isn't by nuclear holocaust. It's not by bombing; it's not by intention at all. It's not by natural forces, either, not by plague, or famine, or earthquake, or volcano. No, the closest we've come to destruction is far more mundane. It's when we wanted to feel a bit cooler on a hot day. It's when we brought a sweater to the play in June, when we caught a movie in July, when we stopped by the supermarket in August to buy ice cream from a freezer only slightly colder than the air in the aisle. The thing that's come closest to killing us is the chemical that first made these comforts possible.
Through our use of CFC refrigerants--also known by the brand name Freon--we unknowingly ripped a hole the size of the continental United States in the ozone layer of our atmosphere. We managed to end production of CFCs before the damage was irreversible, but a hole still appears over Antarctica every October, about as large, now, as it was when we first discovered it, an annual reminder of just how tenuous life is on this planet. It reminds us that what we put into the world has lasting effects on others, whether we know it or intend it or acknowledge it or not.