Food for Thought: A billion more air conditioners?

Apartment building near New Delhi. Can you imagine if every resident had an air conditioner whether throughout India or around the world? Credit: Anindito Mukherjee, Bloomberg

By Kaitlyn Scanlon, Alliance Intern from Oregon State University

As the record heat of summer presses on, people crank up their AC. However, excessive short-term use of air conditioners only makes global temperatures much hotter in the long term, as shared by Bloomberg. The challenge is “by one estimate, the world will add 1 billion ACs before the end of the decade. The market is projected to nearly double before 2040.” 

This is a real threat to climate as “one of the most common coolants, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), can have 1,000 times the warming potency of carbon dioxide,” according to Bloomberg. As we strive to transition from fossil fuel use, it only makes sense to cut down significantly on potent HFC emissions. As more and more HFC emissions enter the atmosphere, they exacerbate the effects of global warming and necessitate the use of many more AC units — thus amplifying the cycle’s effects further.

Unfortunately, the situation is not so simple when factors of poverty, accessibility and necessity are considered. In India, a country where “brutal heatwaves pushed temperatures to 50C (122F),” purchasing any AC at all, often those that are cheapest and most energy-inefficient, has become a sheer necessity. “People in hotter countries, which also tend to be poorer ones, suffer from worse sleep and impaired cognitive performance, both of which drag on productivity and output,” as told by Bloomberg.

Bloomberg states that, while the 1 billion air conditioners would be good for “public health and economic productivity; it’s unquestionably bad for the climate, and a global agreement to phase out the most harmful coolants could keep the appliances out of reach of many of the people who need them most.” That’s why the issue is so multifaceted: exponential AC production would boost the economy and health of citizens immediately, but it’s still only a short-term fix for an ever-worsening problem. 

The debate on how to best address this prevailing issue without burdening developing countries’ working classes is complex. With all of that considered, remembering the dire environmental consequences is crucial. Unfortunately, “scientists estimate that failing to drastically lower dependence on HFCs could result in half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century, an enormous contribution to a rise that would trigger deadlier storms, droughts and, yes, more heatwaves.” Depending on HFCs in the future clearly spells disaster for people and the planet. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *