His Keyboard Versus the Climate

Eric de Place published a fabulous post in Sightline on November 20 entitled “My Keyboard Versus the Climate“. In the spirit of Think Globally, Act Locally, Eric points out that the handy little air blasters from Office Depot that we use to clean our keyboards and spray down the pants of our co-workers are miniature greenhouse gas bombs. Emptying one of the canisters onto a co-worker can release greenhouse gas equivalent to driving a smallish car across the country and halfway back again.

The fiendish chemical used in air blasters is tetrafluoroethane, a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) developed to avoid the ozone-depleting effects of chlorofluorocarbons, the more traditional referigerant and propellant chemical compounds. So air blaster fans may notice that canisters advertise that they are “ozone safe”, without equivalent disclosure that they are “greenhouse-gas castrophic”. HFCs can be up to 20,000 times more powerful in their effects on global warming than a similar amount of carbon dioxide, with an atmospheric lifetime of 260 years, and have been targeted for elimination by the Kyoto Protocol.

Many economically developed nations – Australia and European nations, but not the United States or Japan – have initiated efforts to substitute use of compressed CO2 (believe it or not) for HFCs in refrigerant and propellant applications. Other Asian nations – notably Thailand – have also begun to use CO2 as refrigerant. However, China has long been gaming the carbon trading rules under the Kyoto Protocol, amassing billions of dollars of carbon credits by catching and destroying HFCs they have needlessly produced.

Greenpeace has been at the forefront of efforts to curb use of destructive refrigerant and propellant chemicals through its Greenfreeze effort. By 2004, this initiative had led some major multinational corporations, such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and Unilever, to incorporate more environmentally friendly refrigerants into their operations. However, the United States and Japan, along with China, have remained obstacles to reform. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and industry stalwarts such as Honeywell, DuPont, Ford, General Motors, Fujitsu, and Hitachi all oppose regulation.

The Alliance for Atmospheric Policy is the major trade group representing manufacturers and consumers of HFCs. Their focus is on gas containment and recovery based on voluntary industry efforts, rather than regulations limiting or banning manufacture altogether. Critics suggest that containment and recovery efforts are failing, with HFC leakage rates from automotive air conditioning approaching 30 percent.

So – throw out those nifty little air blasters. In the Obama era, they will be cool as a fist bump in Wasilla.

Since I publish for the Huffington Post, I also need to mention that huffing air blasters – which apparently some kids do – is a deadly game. Manufacturers now add a “bitterant” to discourage huffing, something Matt Drudge may consider doing to the Huffington Post