On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Leisure
by Eric Dean Wilson
“After cooling down,” Eric Dean Wilson told us in his preface that he began his research not knowing “a tank of freon from propane.” It’s a subtle chemistry joke, but a good one. However, by the end of the first 20 pages, the reader realizes beyond a doubt that the author knows about everything we call air conditioning. After his cleverly inspiring initial argument that returning to machine-made cooling is the most pressing environmental task of our generation, Wilson explains to us in detail the science of chemical cooling, both the chemistry and physics of these wondrous molecules. , and the terrifying discovery they are wreaking havoc within the thin protective layers of Earth’s atmosphere.
Woven into the history of Wilson’s first modern coolant—freon, a compound in the chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, family, was developed in the 1930s—it’s an intriguing story of how our best efforts at environmental regulation made the worst of us. Can bring.
In a desperate attempt to save our ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol effectively ended the production of CFCs in 1987, forcing the temperature control industry to switch to less potent fluorocarbon compounds. since then, production CFCs are banned, they are not used. This has created a vigorous underground market in the formerly pooled Freon that caters to small-time farmers and mechanics—who don’t have the resources to retrofit the cooling systems into their tractors or long-haul trucks. Small businesses staffed by teams that go undercover to purchase these CFCs to play in the California carbon market have also emerged. Wilson’s account of his cross-country road trip to meet and talk with Freon’s buyers and sellers beautifully exemplifies the book’s tragic premise – with which I quite agree – that the Way to Climate Hell with Good Intentions Was, and still is.
For example, John Gorey’s 1851 design for the first air-conditioner was meant to provide better air circulation in cramped homes and crowded classrooms, Wilson says, but it didn’t work that way. The first complete cooling systems were not implemented in the inner city, but were used – quite literally – to benefit the market: the first workers provided with air conditioning. Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, 1902. Were. Since then, many of us have taken for granted that for most of the year, the temperatures inside our offices, homes, cars, malls, and movie theaters will be surprisingly cooler than outside.
Our ability to dramatically cool our habitat has changed the way we travel, consume food, use medicine, design our architecture, and more. But ultimately, the chemical compounds used for this cooling can’t help but keep things from leaking from the coils and tanks as the machine ages and is discarded. When released, they continually create greenhouse gases – meaning that refrigeration as a practice makes a major contribution to global warming. In a supreme irony, explains a Wilson, our world was before the adoption of institutional air conditioning. coolant in totality.
Wilson’s research for “after cooling” was ambitious. “I need to be more intimate with climate violence,” he writes in his preface, and goes on to tackle a number of controversial topics. He describes how the history of the cooling of personal and business spaces is intertwined with the history of racism and the institution of slavery. Before mechanical coolers were invented, enslaved children living in temperate climates were forced to air their oppressors for long periods of time, or to move air into containers of water in an effort to cool entire parlors and palaces. was forced to. “One life was put to rest at the expense of another,” Wilson writes with mighty simplicity. Today, he explains, the global socioeconomic gap between those who can effectively cool their surroundings and those who cannot.
One issue that Wilson doesn’t address, and I wish he was: how changes in the Western diet have affected (or not) our perceived need for air conditioning as well as its use. Of course, the measurable increase in average personal insulation over the past 50 years is a thorny topic, but certainly it is relevant to any discussion of ways we can modify our personal space.
“After cooling” has the greatest impact when it asks us to think deeply about the reasons humans want to change the temperature of their surroundings. At one time, occasional sweating was only accepted as a way of life, Wilson says, but we now see rest as a prerequisite for work and play. But what does it really mean to be comfortable? Is it just a lack of restlessness, or is there something else? Is it a physical experience or an emotional state? Wilson invites the reader into deep existential discussions by invoking broad themes of culture and philosophy—an unusual and delightful feature for a book on climate change. What is particularly fascinating is Wilson’s examination of the marketing impulse behind the phrase “air conditioning” as opposed to “air cooling” or something more concrete. Clearly, better “conditions” of air, producing better “conditions” for life, is the definition of progress, isn’t it?
My main question with “After Cooling” is that the book apologizes several times for its existence. Wilson notes that racism, misogyny, and poverty have recently been vigorously accepted in the media and beginning to be addressed on a large and small scale, and she contrasts how her friends and co-workers are simply “aside from the subject.” Waiting to pass” that climate change brings. He also said that people find discussions of refrigerant management less “compelling” and “oddly impersonal” than climate strategies involving electric vehicles or bioplastics. In response, I maintain that the quality of the information and storytelling found in “After Cooling” contradicts the author on these points.
Wilson dares to explicitly state that sustainable climate solutions depend not on new technologies or improved products, but on our ability to make our lives meaningful. The first baby step can be as simple as experimenting with the air-conditioner on a hot July day, setting the room a few degrees above normal, and asking yourself at bedtime if we even noticed.