Authors: Dylan Husted and Tiger Mar
My graduation from Babson College this past spring was in most ways a typical one. The grass was green and neatly trimmed. The sun was out. Smiles simultaneously signaling nervousness and excitement lined everyone’s faces. And of course, there were plenty of caps in the air and gowns in the wind. But there was one equally common part of the picture that may not seem quite as obvious: refrigerators.
Yes, black mini fridges outside of residence halls are as clear in my memory as the black gowns we all wore stepping out of them. It’s no secret that almost every college student has a mini fridge in their room, but it also doesn’t seem to get brought up as the problem it is. Other than, of course, my friends complaining about having to walk all the way downstairs from my room to get to a fridge. It’s tough living in collegiate America.
What few realize, myself included for a time, is that these ~$30 mini fridges from convenience heaven are one of the biggest threats to a future climate hell. It seems crazy and innocuous, or even dramatic, but it’s really just the simple truth. Paul Hawken and his team recently released a groundbreaking book that highlights this problem: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
. The book ranks 80 ways humans can definitely reverse global warming over the next 30 years, and places refrigerants as #1
. Refrigerants are hardly ever brought up in the climate fight, and perhaps this is why it is currently such a big problem.
Refrigerators and A/C units use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to absorb and release heat, thereby cooling food and buildings. Unfortunately, despite how much we love cooling everything, HFCs are incredibly dangerous for the climate. In fact, HFCs warm the atmosphere 1000-9000x more than carbon, which is not an estimate - it’s an actual range that depends on the type of HFC in use.
Fortunately, 200 nations agreed to ban HFCs through the Kigali Deal in 2016. John Kerry, who pioneered the deal, called tackling the problem: “the biggest thing we can do [on climate] in one giant swoop.”
However, despite this monumental global commitment, there are still, of course, an incredible amount of HFC powered fridges and A/C units in use. In addition, Project Drawdown projects 700 million more A/C units will come online by 2030, and the Kigali Deal allows many of them to be HFC powered during its phase out process. Finally, here’s the kicker that makes this an important issue at the college student level: the danger of HFCs is not in their use – it’s in their disposal. According to Project Drawdown, 90% of refrigerant emissions occur at end of life.
SaveOhno has never ran a campaign for reducing or properly disposing refrigerants (as this has only recently landed on our radar), but we have run 4 recycling campaigns that are indicative of our ability to run refrigerant-based ones. In those campaigns, 154 users signed up and submitted 74 actions that were verified successfully by the SaveOhno community. From sign up, to action taken, to community verification, these actions took just 44 hours on average. To put that in perspective, I noticed an abandoned mini fridge outside of my residence hall and it took me 5 days to get motivated enough to go over to it, pack it in my car, and bring it to my girlfriend’s house. Even someone as committed to the climate fight as me needs SaveOhno campaigns to stay motivated and active. The small things matter, but they're easy to let slide. In those 5 days, Babson facilities certainly could’ve brought that fridge to a dumpster where it would have joined its fellow HFC refrigerants in the destabilization of our climate. Scale this one instance up to the millions of abandoned college fridges in the country every year, and you can see how big of an issue this is.
So why did I go through all of college without buying a mini fridge, and why did I spend an entire day lugging a giant abandoned one to my girlfriend’s house? Well, weirdly, those were each the single biggest actions I’ve ever taken on the most important issue of our time – and I’ve taken many. I didn't know they were as big as they were when I did them. I just simply saw waste and wanted to reduce it. This is what we all need to do to reach Drawdown, and this is what SaveOhno makes easy and empowering. For more on how SaveOhno tackles big climate problems at an individual level (and how your future/current grandchildren play into this), check out my last blog post on SaveOhno's spring activity.
When I think back to my graduation I do not garner inspiration from the boilerplate speeches about ambition and success. I do not look back at a gown and see profound opportunity. But, weirdly, I do look back at a sea of mini fridges and think of all of that and more. These are the kinds of issues we need to seek out today – the boring ones that matter. The no-brainers receiving less than zero thought. If we continue to consume and improperly dispose with reckless abandonment, it almost does not even matter how effective our leaders are in the climate fight. And if you haven’t heard, their effectiveness is on a pretty steep decline.