Before I moved to the retirement center, I lived in a 1896 clapboard Victorian home with no central heating or air conditioning. In the winter, I kept warm by using electric wall heaters and in summer, I turned on overhead fans. The system met my needs on most days, but when summer heat hovered above 90 degrees, life could get uncomfortable. My new residence comes with air conditioning, which helped me survive our warm summer, but I little realized that in using it, I was contributing to climate change.
In “Chilling Effect,” Maddie Oatman writes that “waste heat from air conditioners can actually raise the outdoor temperature – thus creating even more demand for air conditioning. “ (Mother Jones, September/October, 2015, pg. 67.) Increased demand means energy shortages, price spikes and pollution. Each year we spend $11 billion for cooling and as a result, we release about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air, the equivalent of 19 million cars. (Ibid, pg 66.)
Pollution is likely to get worse because a rising middle class in China and India will want the creature comforts we enjoy in the west. The consequence will be to speed up global warming. Attempting to squelch cooling devices around the globe is foolhardy and inhumane. Children, the infirm and frail elderly are the first to succumb in a heat wave.
Fortunately, planners are thinking ahead. Japan is testing “water retentive pavements, which absorb and then evaporate moisture to cool the streets.” (Ibid pg. 67.) Florida, California and Georgia have issued guidelines for new commercial construction which require light-colored structures, reflecting devices and foliage to provide shade.
Thinking about next summer, homeowners should consider insulating their homes. Ceiling fans can be effective and cost about 30 cents a month when run 8 hours a day. (Ibid pg. 67) Turning the thermostat to 78, will save money and the environment, too. One report from Phoenix showed that outside temperatures can increase by 2 degrees in summer when we use air conditioners. If we don’t get efficient, cooling inside air at the expense of the environment will leave us spinning like a dog chasing its tail.