There is no denying that the planet has gotten warmer. This summer, the temperature at California’s Death Valley measured at 54 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit), matching the record made by the same place in August 2020, which, some argue, was the highest ever recorded on Earth. A temperature of 56.7 degrees Celsius (134 degrees Celsius) was recorded back in 1913, but some experts dispute it.
That kind of heat, whether it truly was the hottest temperature ever recorded or not, is dangerous. It is the kind of heat that can lead to heat-related illnesses and sudden death. Unfortunately, it will only grow worse from here.
The only way to survive it is by using air conditioning. Sales of air conditioning increased across the U.S. this month, with some stores running out of units because of the sudden surge in demand.
As a result, the need for electricity also increased. In New York City, as people turned to air conditioning to survive the heat, the grid was overwhelmed, almost causing the parts of the system to overheat and fail. To prevent collapse and blackouts, the city deployed police officers to distribute dry ice for people to cool their homes without cranking up the AC.
Air Conditioning: the Cons
Air conditioning has been a lifesaver for many people, especially those who constantly have to live through deadly heatwaves. Most Americans are only catching up. However, there are pretty major trade-offs to comfort.
Air conditioning does two things: they increase your utility bills, and they contribute to further warming of the planet. The machine requires a lot of power to run, far more than other household appliances. In fact, one estimate says that a small unit that cools a single room uses electricity four times more than refrigerators. A central cooling system uses 15 times more energy to cool the entire house.
And, if the average global temperature continues to rise, air conditioning will be so ubiquitous that everyone will have it. If that happens, air conditioning will utilize about 13 percent of all electricity worldwide and will generate 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, per year.
Of course, there are ways to minimize energy consumption and, therefore, the greenhouse gas emission of an air conditioning unit. By scheduling regular maintenance for air conditioning, the household can be assured that it is running as it should be and is as energy-efficient as possible. The difference might seem small, but it can add up and lead to savings.
There are also air conditioners in the market that are designed to use less energy. They are better for the environment yet can still cool a room. However, they are more expensive. Not everyone has the financial capacity to make that choice.
A Better Alternative
But, air conditioners are not the only answer. Some recommend the humble electric fan. The World Health Organization has advised against using electric fans for temperatures that exceed 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The concern is the air will wick the sweat off of the skin and make the heat worse. However, previous studies have found that it is not as dangerous. While it can wick sweat, it only does so in places where the humidity is extremely low or high.
Between 20017 and 2019, electric fans were safely used by young and old adults in Europe, Canada, South America, and Southeast Asia. Only in the Middle East, where there is exceptionally high humidity, are electric fans discouraged. Compared to air conditioners, electric fans use 30 to 50 times less energy. Moreover, it is affordable to low- to medium-income households around the world.
But, if the world continues to heat up, even the electric fan may not be enough. The heating caused by climate change will only lead to an increase in air conditioning use which will exacerbate climate change.
What needs to be done is to innovate and improve air conditioning so that it can fulfill its purpose without harming the environment. The window-type air conditioning, which is what most people use, has not been upgraded for decades. A version of air conditioning that is energy-efficient does not emit greenhouse gases, efficiently cools a room, and is affordable is severely needed by the world.
More importantly, the problem of climate change needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Doing so will limit the rise in average global temperatures, eliminating the need for air conditioning in the first place.
The extreme heat experienced in much of the world is causing more people to install air conditioning units in their homes. However, air conditioning not only leads to expensive utility bills but also exacerbates climate change. Work needs to be done to improve the situation globally.
Meta title:How Your Air Conditioning Is Harming the Planet
meta desc: People rely on air conditioners to survive extreme heat. However, as the average global temperature rises, more AC will be in use, worsening climate change.