Paris Agreement Air Conditioning
This is one of the great dilemmas of climate change: we are taking the comfort of air conditioning so that global energy consumption for this purpose has already tripled since 1990. It is on track to grow even faster by the middle of the century – and provided fossil fuels provide electricity that could generate enough carbon dioxide emissions to warm the planet by a deadly half-degree Celsius. Researchers have also shown that people who live in warmer areas, even for a very short period of time, feel good at higher internal temperatures. They argue that human comfort, whether mental or biological adaptation, is adaptable and not objective. This seems to be clear to many people who live with these temperatures. At a recent climate change conference in London, an Indian delegate rebuked: „If I can work and work at 30C, you could do it, believe me.“ If we are not about to be saved by technology and global political changes seem like a distant hope, there remains a very simple way to reduce the damage caused to the environment by air conditioning systems: less to take advantage of them. But as Julia Steinberger, an eco-economist and author of the IPCC, has written, all serious proposals to change our lifestyle – the reduction of imported driving, theft or avocados – are considered „beyond the pale, heretics, almost delusional.“ This is especially true for air conditioning systems where phone calls to use them less are often treated as proposals for people to die in heat waves or as evidence of a malicious desire to deny others the same comfort that citizens of rich countries already enjoy. The overall dominance of air conditioning systems was not inevitable. As recently as 1990, there were only about 400 m of air conditioners in the world, mainly in the United States. Originally built for industrial use, air conditioning was finally considered essential, a symbol of modernity and comfort.
Then the air conditioning became global. Today, like other drivers of the climate crisis, we are running to find solutions, and we wonder how we are so closely linked to a technology that is drowning us. One Thursday night in Manhattan last month, New Yorkers were preparing for what meteorologists had predicted would be the hottest weekend of the year. Over the past two decades, every record of peak electricity consumption in the city has occurred during a heat wave, as millions of people simultaneously turn on their air conditioning systems. And so employees in downtown Con Edison, the company that supplies electricity to more than 10 million people in the New York area, were busy transforming a conference room on the 19th floor into an emergency call center. Growing demand for air conditioning systems and refrigerators may accelerate global warming, but new guidelines could help reduce emissions by setting clear performance standards for new appliances. All these reports note the terrible irony of this feedback loop: warmer temperatures lead to more air conditioners; more air conditioning leads to warmer temperatures.