Dear Pablo,

I’ll be blunt: Is my big new flat-screen TV killing the planet?

What you are referring to is the use of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) in manufacturing LCD televisions. Back in 1992, NF3 was seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to the ozone-damaging perfluorocarbons that the semiconductor industry used in the plasma etching of silicon wafers. While this change undoubtedly had an impact on the success of the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, the international agreement to plug the ozone hole, it is now being blamed for contributing to climate change. NF3 may not damage the ozone layer, but it has been shown to be 17,200 times worse for the climate than the main climate change culprit, carbon dioxide.

So what does all of this have to do with the shiny new 50-inch high-definition LCD screen hanging on your wall? Well, NF3is used in the manufacture of LCD screens for television and computing. I was also not thrilled to learn that NF3 is used in the manufacture of “thin film” photovoltaic solar panels. A team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, with funding from NASA, discovered 4,200 metric tons of NF3 in the atmosphere in 2006, while the previous estimate was only 1,200 metric tons. This startling discovery means that far more NF3is evading pollution control measures and is escaping into the atmosphere.

At current rates of increase in the accumulation of NF3in the atmosphere, we will add almost 600 metric tons this year alone. While this sounds small, keep in mind that this powerful greenhouse gas is 17,200 worse than CO2and has an life expectancy of 740 years. The annual emissions of NF3are equivalent to 10,320,000 metric tons of CO2, or roughly the same impact as 2,064,000 cars have over a year!