This is the fourth in a short series about greenhouse gases – and what we can do about them as individuals. We have written about carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide previously. This time we examine the causes of fluorinated greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.
We Need a Definition: What Does Fluorinated Mean
Fluorine is a poisonous pale yellow gas of the halogen series. It is the most reactive of all the elements, causing very severe burns on contact with skin. The gas plays a role in many industrial applications, from nuclear fuel to electrical transformers and circuit breakers.
As consumers, we encounter it in air-conditioning systems, propellants, and solvents. Although production is only one tenth of it was in the 1980’s following widespread prohibition. Approximately 30% of agricultural chemicals contain fluorine, mainly herbicides, fungicides and some crop regulators. On the positive side, fluoride hardens teeth and is a constituent of many medicines.
Natural Causes of Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases
Fluorine is the thirteenth commonest element in Earth’s crust and therefore many minerals contain it. It does not appear to play an essential role in sustaining human, animal, or plant life. Although it could help destroy it through global warming.
Fluorine gases entering the atmosphere are highly stable, meaning they only start decomposing when they reach higher altitudes. Therefore, several generations will have to pass before the ban on chlorofluorocarbons and bromofluorocarbons takes effect.
Their presence plays a critical role in ozone layer depletion. Because less ozone in the atmosphere means greater risks of skin cancer, sunburn, and cataracts. Ozone recovery is slow but continuing. The ozone hole will only reach pre-1980 levels by 2075.
The Montreal Protocol that halted ozone layer depletion was one of the most successful international agreements ever. Delays in dealing similarly with the other greenhouse gases could shame our generation forever.
Preview Image: Tetrafluoromethane Used for Refrigerant