air conditioning and global warming

Air-conditioning has been a godsend for hot countries, and hot regions of otherwise temperate countries, but it comes with a huge environmental cost: the electricity needed to power these machines fuels global warming. A leader in this week’s Economist magazine argues that more needs to be done to make these machines more energy efficient, and that buildings, even entire cities, should be designed so that less air-conditioning is required. Here is a self-explanatory excerpt, with a link to the full article.

Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, called it “perhaps one of the signal inventions of history”. It has transformed productivity in the tropics and helped turn southern China into the workshop of the world. In Europe, its spread has pushed down heat-related deaths by a factor of ten since 2003, when 70,000 more people than usual, most of them elderly, died in a heatwave. For children, air-conditioned classrooms and dormitories are associated with better grades at school.

Environmentalists who call air-conditioning “a luxury we cannot afford” have half a point, however. In the next ten years, as many air-conditioners will be installed around the world as were put in between 1902 (when air-conditioning was invented) and 2005. Until energy can be produced without carbon emissions, these extra machines will warm the world. At the moment, therefore, air-conditioners create a vicious cycle. The more the Earth warms, the more people need them. But the more there are, the warmer the world will be.

Rebirth of the cool“, The Economist, 25 August 2018.


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