For climatologists, 1972 will always be remembered as the year when MIT meteorologist, Edward Lorenz presented his paper, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” It was from this paper, the result of his elaborate scientific experiments in the 1960s that the oft-quoted Butterfly Effect emerged to describe Lorenz’s Chaos Theory.
According to the theory, small differences in a dynamic system, such as the atmosphere, could trigger vast and often unsuspected results.
When viewed through the filter of the Chaos Theory, the imagery of the butterfly flapping its wings appears a perfect fit for refrigerants and their purported impact on the atmosphere. At another level, the imagery is pertinent in the context of the Middle East – regional action or inaction has global implications. At a technical conference in late 2010, Yacoub Al Matouq, Refrigeration Expert at the Kuwait National Ozone Committee, called for a regional introspection on the use of refrigerants. Pointing to the fact that the Middle East consumes several times more refrigerants a year than the whole of Africa put together, he said the situation called for a review.
The other issue is the types of refrigerants in use in the region. At the same conference, Al Matouq had questioned the possibility of using natural refrigerants, despite the questions being raised about the potential toxicity and flammability characteristics of some of them. Could natural refrigerants be used in a district cooling plant, where the centralised regimen, backed by constant monitoring by trained personnel, could negate concerns relating to the potential risks they pose to human health and safety? Al Matouq asked. And what of certain blends, which come with the promise of low GWP (global warming potential), say? Could they be deployed in large central cooling plants, provided they are drop-in refrigerants and, hence, are compatible with existing equipment in the plants?
Lorenz’s Butterfly evokes the need for answers, and urgently at that.