The dark trap of air conditioning

There's an excellent article on air conditioning in the Guardian newspaper today, entitled 'The air conditioning trap: how cold air is heating the world'. The article describes the history of air conditioning and how power companies encouraged people to buy power-hungry air conditioners in order to increase their need for electrical power, first pitching them as a glorious luxury, then as a necessity. This problem snow-balled as builders constructed houses and office buildings with little interest in creating a home whose design reduced heat problems. Instead, they just fitted them with air-con. This American invention then spread around the world, making office buildings in hot countries stay at twenty degrees centigrade, even though the native population were at home with thirty degree daily temperatures. It has now reached the point, reports the article, that in a Beijing heatwave, half the power generation is used for air conditioning.

Air conditioning, not surprisingly, is therefore a disaster when it comes to climate change. Not only are fossil fuels being consumed to power these air-conditioners but air-conditioners are also net heat generators. All the heat they remove from a room is simply pumped out the window, along with the waste heat created by running the motor and pump. Cities therefore become doubly hot in heatwaves, as the ambient heat, magnified by concrete, tarmac and glass, is boosted by the air-con heat output. It could all be so different. All we need to do is change how our buildings are designed and a lot of our heat problems could go away. The ground under our feet is always around four degrees in temperate, summer or winter. This is how ground-source heat pumps generate power. We therefore don't even need refrigerators if we live in a house; keeping food in a hole in the ground, one that is protected and insulated and easy to clean, can do the job. We're destroying our environment not because of necessities, but because of luxuries.