climate change

Let’s talk about refrigeration

A couple of months ago I read Drawdown, which bills itself as ‘the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming’. It has 100 ideas ranked in order of impact, and the right at the top was something I did not expect: refrigeration.

I’ve been writing about climate change for a decade. I must have read some 50 books on the subject by now, and at no point do I remember refrigeration being mentioned as a serious concern – certainly nothing to suggest it would come first in a list of strategies. Sure, as the planet warms more people will want air conditioning, and that will mean a rising demand for energy at the moment when we’re trying to cut our energy use. But is there more to it than that?

I decided I’d better look into it. To make up for ignoring it on the blog for ten years, I’m going to dedicate a week to the subject. And since the world is sweating in the middle of a global heatwave – the kind of thing that will be normal if we carry on like this – a cool-themed week might be just what we all need.

This week I’m going to look into why refrigeration is a climate change problem, and what the opportunities are for fixing it. We’ll look at the history of cooling technologies and what the future might hold. And with any luck, my efforts to write about cooling during a heatwave will jinx it and it will have ended by the time you read this…


  1. Living off the grid I had great visions of fridge-less existence, but we recently got an A++ rated small fridge and wow am I glad we did. In the summer we run it on a 1000 Watt solar system with no trouble. During the winter we switch it off and keep our spoilable food outdoors, which is no problem in Serbia. Mind you this is a vertical firdge, you would get even better energy efficiency hacking a chest freezer’s thermometer to make it a chest fridge. As always, refer to the excellent Low Tech Magazine for other less-tech solutions 🙂 Happy research!

  2. So glad you are tackling this subject – I just let our local group know you will be writing about this and encouraged them to follow you. I am curious where Bill McKibben stands on this issue. It seems like Draw Down and Divestment have a limited interface. Have you ever written about that issue?

  3. McKibben is one of the authors in the Drawdown team, you’ll be pleased to know. It’s a large scale group effort. Exactly how they interface though, I don’t really know.

  4. Hey Jeremy. Coincidentally, I was also looking into refrigeration at the same time. It’s especially relevant to me as I’m a research scientist and we use plenty of -20 and -80 freezers. There are now options that use refrigerants with very low Global Warming Potentials compared to HFCs and HCFCs. Here’s a post that summarizes my findings:

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