By George Melloan             (12/17/1989)
    [From The Wall Street Journal, 24 October 1989, p. A25:3]

             [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   Remember those  bulky, thick-walled refrigerators  of 30 years
ago?  They,  or at  least something  less efficient  than today's
thin-walled  units,  may   soon  be  making   a  comeback.   That
something, whatever it is, could add  as much as $100 to the $600
or so consumers now pay for lower-priced refrigerators.
   These  and other  expensive changes  in products  ranging from
auto air conditioners  to foam cushioning  to commercial solvents
are  in  prospect  because   of  something  called  the  Montreal
Protocol,  signed by  24 nations  in  1987.  In  one of  the most
sweeping environmental  regulatory efforts  to date  -- involving
products with an annual  value of $135 billion  in the U.S. alone
--  the  signatories  agreed  to   curtail  sharply  the  use  of
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).  Worldwide production would be cut in
half  by 1998.   The  U.S. Senate  liked  the treaty  so  well it
ratified [July 1986] it by a vote of 89 to 0.  Not to be outdone,
George Bush  wants CFCs banished  altogether by the  year 2000, a
goal  endorsed  at  an 80-nation  U.N.  environmental  meeting in
Helsinki in the spring.
   That's a  lot of  banishment, as it  turns out.   CFCs are the
primary ingredient  in a  gas, often referred  to by  the Du Pont
trade name Freon, which is compressed  to liquid form to serve as
the   cooling   agent  in   refrigeration   and  air-conditioning
equipment.  Gases containing CFCs are pumped into polyurethane to
make  the  foam  used  in  pillows,  upholstery  and  insulation.
Polyurethane foam is a highly efficient insulator, which accounts
for why  the walls of  refrigerators and freezers  can be thinner
now than they were back in the days when they were insulated with
glass fiber.
   But even though by  some estimates it might  cost the world as
much as $100 billion between now  and the year 2000 to convert to
other  coolants,  foaming  agents and  solvents  and  to redesign
equipment  for  these less  efficient  substitutes,  the Montreal
Protocol's legions of supporters say it is worth it.  They insist
that  CFCs are  damaging the  earth's stratospheric  layer, which
screens out some  of the sun's ultraviolet  rays.  Hence, as they
see it, if something isn't  done earthlings will become ever more
subject to sunburn and skin cancer.
   Peter  Teagan, a  specialist in  heat  transfer, is  running a
project at  Arthur D. Little  Inc., of Cambridge,  Mass., to find
alternative technologies  that will  allow industry  to eliminate
CFCs.   In addition  to his  interest in  ozone depletion  he has
extensively studies the related topic of global warming, a theory
that  mankind's generation  of  carbon dioxide  through increased
combustion of  fossil fuels  is creating  a ``greenhouse effect''
that  will  work  important   climatic  changes  in  the  earth's
atmosphere over time.
   ``I would be the  first to admit that  there is not a complete
consensus  in the  scientific community  on  either one  of these
problems,'' says Mr. Teagan.  ``In  the kind of literature I read
I come across countervailing  opinions quite frequently.  But the
nature of the problem is such that  many others feel it has to be
addressed soon, before  all the evidence is  in.  We can't afford
to wait.''
   But does  it have to  be so soon?   Some atmospheric scientist
think that even if  CFCs were released into  the atmosphere at an
accelerating rate,  the amount of  ozone depletion  would be only
10%  by  the  middle  of the  next  century.   It's  easy  to get
something comparable by simply moving to a higher altitude in the
   Moreover, there are  questions, particularly among atmospheric
scientists  who  know this  subject  best, about  the  ability of
anyone to know what in fact  is happening to the ozone layer.  It
is  generally   agreed  that  when   CFCs  rise   from  earth  to
stratosphere, the chlorine in them is capable of interfering with
the process through which ultraviolet rays split oxygen molecules
and form ozone.  But ozone creation is a very large-scale natural
process and the importance of human-generated CFCs in reducing it
is largely a matter of conjecture.  The ozone layer is constantly
in motion  and thus very  hard to measure.   What scientists have
known since the late  1970s is that there is  a hole in the layer
over Antarctica that expands or contracts from year to year.  But
it  is at  least  worthy of  some note  that  there are  very few
refrigerators  in  Antarctica.    Moreover,  surely  someone  has
noticed that household refrigerators  are closed systems, running
for many years without either the  CFC gas or the insulation ever
   Another  argument   of  the   environmentalists  is   that  if
substitutes are available, why not  use them?  Mr. Teagan cites a
list of  substitutes but  none, so  far, match  the nonflammable,
nontoxic CFCs.  Butane  and propane can be  used as coolants, for
example,  but are  flammable.  Moreover,  new lubricants  will be
needed to protect  compressors from the  new formulations, which,
as with CFCs, are  solvents.  Mr. Teagan points  out as well that
if  the equipment  designed  to get  along  without CFCs  is less
efficient than current devices,  energy consumption will rise and
that will worsen the greenhouse effect.  Folks in the Midwest who
just  suffered  a  mid-October  snowstorm  may  wonder  where the
greenhouse was  when they  needed it,  but let's  not be flippant
about grave risks.
   As it happens,  Arthur D. Little  is not at  all interested in
throwing  cold  water  on  ozone  depletion  and  global  warming
theories.   It  is  interested  in  making  some  money  advising
industry on how  to convert to  a world without  CFCs.  There is,
after all, big money in environmentalism.
   Maybe  we  should ask  why  it  was that  Du  Pont  so quickly
capitulated  and issued  a statement,  giving it  wide publicity,
that  it  was  withdrawing  CFCs.   Freon,  introduced  in  1930,
revolutionized   America   by   making   refrigeration   and  air
conditioning  practical  after  all.   One  answer  is  that  big
companies are  growing weary of  fighting environmental movements
and are instead  trying to cash  in on them,  although they never
care to  put it quite  that way.  Du  Pont, as it  happens, has a
potential substitute  for CFCs.  Imperial  Chemical Industries of
the U.K. also  has one, and  is building a  plant in Louisiana to
produce it.  Japanese  chemical companies are  at work developing
their  own  substitutes and  hoping  to conquer  new  markets, of
   There are still others who don't mind seeing new crises arise.
Environmental groups would soon go  out of business were they not
able to send out mailings describing the latest threat and asking
for  money to  fight it.   University professors  and consultants
with scientific credentials saw a  huge market for their services
evaporate when price decontrol destroyed the energy crisis [1972-
1980]  and  thus  the demand  for  ``alternative  energy.''  They
needed new crises to generate new grants and contracts.
   In other  words, environmentalism has  created a  whole set of
vested interests  that fare better  when there  are many problems
than when there  are few.  That  tends to tilt  the public debate
toward  ``solutions'' even  when some  of the  most knowledgeable
scientists are  skeptical of the  seriousness of  the threats and
the  insistence of  urgency.  There  is  an element  of make-work
   Consumers  pay  the  bill  for all  this  in  the  price  of a
refrigerator  or an  air-conditioned  car.  If  they  were really
getting insurance against environmental disaster, the price would
be cheap.  But if there is no  impending threat, it can get to be
very expensive.

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