A billion new air conditioners will save lives but cook the planet (2023)

A billion new air conditioners will save lives but cook the planet (1)

Summer in India has always been hot. More and more, it tests the limits of human survival. As temperatures have soared in the world's most populous country in recent weeks, more than a dozen people have died in an outbreak in central India and thousands have flooded hospitals with symptoms of heatstroke. Hundreds of schools have closed and the mercury is still rising: temperatures will hover around 45°C (113°F) in the northern plains this weekend.

The most immediate solution is mercifully available, at least in the short term.

Trial forair conditioningit's growing in markets where both incomes and temperatures are rising, in populous places like India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

According to one estimate, the world will add 1 billion ACs by the end of the decade. The market is expected to nearly double by 2040. This bodes well for public health and economic productivity goals. is undoubtedly bad for the climate, and aglobal agreementPhasing out the most harmful refrigerants could keep the devices away from many of the people who need them most.

The logic behind the AC boom is simple. Economists see an uptick in sales as annual household income approaches $10,000, a threshold that many of the world's hottest places have recently or soon will hit. The Philippines crossed the $10,000 mark last year or so. Indonesia in the last decade. In India, where more than 80% of the population still lacks access to air conditioning, per capita gross domestic product – adjusted for purchasing power – will reach $9,000 this year for the first time.

(Video) A Billion New Air Conditioners Will Save Lives But Cook the Planet

"We operate with unlimited potential," said Kanwaljeet Jawa, who heads the Indian arm of Daikin Industries Ltd, the world's largest AC maker. In recent years, he said, "our sales have increased more than 15 times."

This development has far-reaching consequences for public health, well-being and economic development. Buying an air conditioner is a step out of poverty for individuals and their communities. People in the hottest countries, which also tend to be the poorest, suffer from poorer sleep and reduced cognitive performance, which undermine productivity and performance.

In a study that looked at thousands of Indian factories with different cooling settings, researchers found that productivity dropped by about 2% for every degree Celsius increase. It's a big deal for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to boost sluggish export numbers, lure business from China and move up the global value chain: heat losses over the past 30 years could amount to about 1% of its GDP of India or about $32 billion, according to E. Somanathan, author of the report and professor of economics at ISI Delhi.

But the too-rapid expansion of AC coverage also threatens to worsen the crisis it is responding to. Most appliances use a refrigerant that is much more harmful than carbon dioxide. Nations where demand is growing at the fastest rate depend heavily on coal power, and most people can only afford the cheapest and most inefficient power plants.

If efficiency standards don't improve, "then the planet will literally cook," said Abhas Jha, a World Bank climate change specialist based in Singapore.

Richer and more temperate countries have stricter regulations on ACs, requiring better energy efficiency and less toxic refrigerants. This increases the cost of the devices, making these types of measurements less palatable where affordability is key. International climate agencies are pushing developing countries to reduce their carbon footprint, but India and its ilk point out that they still contribute far less to global emissions than places like the US, where nine out of 10 people have access to AC. .

(Video) Billion New Air Conditioners Will Save Lives But Cook Earth

"We are facing a situation where there is an emergencydifficult circumstancesimposed on developing economies," said José Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, assistant professor of public health at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

In Delhi's working-class neighborhoods, these discussions are abstract. For many, access to AC is a matter of survival. Piyu Haldar, who works as a maid, said her hut turns into an oven in summer. The tin roof gets hot enough to cook rotis on. Before going to bed, Haldar and her husband would pour water on the bed to cool the room.

When their son was born in 2016, he had a fever due to the heat. This was the crucial point. To pay for Volta's basic AC, Haldar stopped buying clothes, cut back on meals, took out a loan and doubled the number of houses he cleaned.

Haldar, 27, avoids turning on the device during the day. But when night falls, he flips the switch and closes the door, keeping the mosquitoes out and the fresh air in. In a windowless room decorated with teddy bears and toys, her son, Yasir, leaned his face against the air conditioner, enjoying the "frozen air!"

"He must be visiting just to sit next to him," Haldar said. "People think we've gotten too smart." Since buying the AC, she and her husband have more energy during the day, she said, and Yasir is no longer sick from the heat.

As more people like Haldar buy ACs, refrigeration companies are trying to improve energy efficiency without pricing out their biggest growing markets. Most G-20 countries, including India, use labeling systems to assess product efficiency, and stricter standards in the US and EU have reduced the energy use of household appliances by 15% in recent years, according to the BloombergNEF.

Haldar chose a three-star unit from Voltas, which costs about 27,000 rupees ($330), or about 15 percent less than comparable, higher-performing options. Three-star units account for about 60% of total AC sales at Godrej Appliances, one of India's largest retailers, said business head Kamal Nandi. One way to encourage consumers to buy more efficient models, the company says, would be to cut taxes on appliances to 18%, compared to the current 28% luxury rate. “AC has become a necessity,” said Nandi. "It's not a luxury item anymore."

(Video) Cooling Our Cities Without Air Conditioning

For refrigeration companies like Daikin and Haier, growing demand for AC can be offset by regulations designed to curb climate change. Part of the problem will be solved if and when countries adopt cleaner energy sources. The second question - the refrigerants that convert this electricity intocold air- it's more complicated.

One of the most common refrigerants, hydrofluorocarbons, can have 1,000 times the heat of carbon dioxide. Scientists estimate that not drastically reducing reliance on HFCs could lead to half a degree of warming by the end of the century, a huge contribution to an increase that would trigger storms, droughts and, yes, more heat waves.

In 2016, more than 170 nations agreed to begin phasing out HFCs starting in 2019, when rich industrialized countries would make the first deep cuts. There are less environmentally harmful refrigerants on the market produced by Chemours Co. and Honeywell International Inc. Daikin and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation are working on their own products.

"If you don't have green soda, you're a loser," said Jawa, managing director of Daikin India, which became a billion-dollar company last year and hopes to double that with three more.

Refrigeration companies are looking for new opportunities. Daikin's R-32 has about a third of the global warming potential of conventional refrigerants and is cheaper than some other refrigerants. it has become common in devices sold by major retailers such as Godrej. But it's also slightly more flammable than older refrigerants and, according to Prima Madan, a refrigeration and energy efficiency expert at the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, it's still highly polluting.

The Kigali Amendment to phase out HFCs is legally binding and although many of its targets are still far in the future, developed countries have picked up the pace. While R-32 "has helped avoid a lot of emissions," Madan said, "we have to reduce."

For now, however, the alternatives are often more expensive. This has created resistance even in rich countries. The US Senate recently agreed to cut HFC consumption by 85% over 15 years, and the conservative Heritage Foundation warned Americans to "be prepared to pay a lot more for air conditioning."

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For India, the challenge is to implement cleaner technology before millions of new consumers buy the dirtiest ACs, ensuring their use for another decade. Last year the country recorded some of its hottest weeks since 1901. Brutal heatwaves sent temperatures reaching 50°C (122F) across the subcontinent. The worst ravages have killed hundreds of people, led to hours-long power outages and even caused a giant dump on the outskirts of India's capital to spontaneously combust.

Naresh Tatavet, a private driver in Delhi, is among those who have had enough. This month, he bought his young family their first AC, calling it one of the biggest financial investments he's ever made — on par with buying a motorcycle. In his neighborhood, after someone buys an AC, "we bring sweets to celebrate".

Regardless of what happens in Washington, Brussels and elsewhere, Tatavet is certain of one thing: his family will not return. He can no longer watch his baby throw up because of the heat.

"I don't want to wake up drenched in sweat anymore," he said.

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A billion new air conditioners will save lives but cook the planet? ›

Demand for air conditioners is surging in markets where both incomes and temperatures are rising, populous places like India, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines — by one estimate, the world will add 1 billion ACs before the end of the decade.

What is the paradox of air conditioning? ›

As Earth warms, billions of people in the developing world will face life-threatening heat waves, raising demand for air conditioning. But powering all that cooling is going to take more energy, which will, paradoxically, require more fossil fuels burning, creating more carbon and more warming.

How much energy will a new AC unit save? ›

The benefits of upgrading your central AC.

The first thing any upgrade will do is lower your energy usage. A 20-year-old air conditioning system might use 6 kWh of electricity to cool an average-sized house. A modern AC system could cool that same house using as little as 1.71 kWh of electricity.

Does air conditioning save lives? ›

AC Saves Lives

During heat waves, the old and the young are at a high risk of heatstroke, and AC can prevent that from happening.

How air conditioning is warming the world? ›

The more we run AC, the more electricity we use; more electricity releases more greenhouse gases, heating the planet and requiring even more AC to stay cool. “It's both a response to what is happening and also a driver,” says Renee Obringer, an energy researcher from Penn State University.

Is air conditioning bad for the planet? ›

Because they use a large amount of energy, electricity production is increased, which emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. At excessive levels, this greenhouse gas can trap heat near the planet's surface and contribute to global warming. Another factor is refrigerant.

Is it cheaper to run AC all the time? ›

Conclusion. The answer to the question “is it cheaper to leave your air conditioner on all day?” is a resounding yes. You'll save money on your energy and repair bills, especially during the summer months.

Should I replace my 20 year old air conditioner? ›

The longevity of your system can also depend on other factors such as the quality of the original installation and how well the unit was maintained. But the general rule is that if your system is over ten years old, it's time to give the replacement option some serious consideration.

How efficient is a 25 year old air conditioner? ›

A high SEER rating indicates better efficiency. Highly efficient air conditioners have efficiency ratings of 25. Old air conditioners have an efficiency rating of 10, which explains why they use so much electricity. Modern technology can eradicate this problem.

Is it healthier to live without AC? ›

While not staying cool enough negatively impacted young people's brains, scientists say that it can be even worse for the elderly, children, or those with certain medical conditions.

What happens if you stay in AC all day? ›

Staying in AC for a prolonged period of time can cause respiratory problems in nose, throat and eyes. You may experience dry throat, rhinitis and nasal blockage. Rhinitis is a condition which causes inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose. It is cause by a viral infection or by an allergic reaction.

Is it healthy to sleep in air conditioning? ›

Benefits of sleeping with AC

Sleeping with the AC on helps prevent heat-related conditions, such as dehydration, heatstroke, and heat exhaustion. Typical AC filters will not purify the air, though they can prevent dust and particles from entering the unit.

Will AC become obsolete? ›

In summary, despite the R-22 ban, the government wants you to know that your units won't become obsolete anytime soon. When your unit needs fixing, the EPA says, “After 2020, the servicing of systems with R-22 will rely on recycled or stockpiled quantities.”

How did people survive the heat without AC? ›

Architecture played a big role in keeping homes cool. By creating archways, large windows, and high ceilings, builders could funnel in outdoor breezes and create cross-ventilation. Porches built in the shade also gave people an area to cool off during the evening.

How did humans survive without air conditioning? ›

Deep eaves and porches protected windows from the heat of the sun, and it was common to plant trees on the east and west sides of a house for additional shade. In addition to this, rooms were designed with windows on opposite sides of the space, which allowed for cross ventilation.

Do we really need air conditioning? ›

Many more deaths have heat as a contributing factor but not the main cause. Keeping cool with an efficient air conditioner is the best means of preventing heat-related deaths and illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Does the AC really waste gas? ›

Does AC affect gas mileage? As a general answer, a Consumer Reports study found that, yes, running the AC does reduce gas mileage. Here are some tips to help you balance your fuel consumption with comfort. Generally, the air conditioner uses gas, so use it wisely.

Is heat or AC worse for the environment? ›

“Heating may contribute as much or more to climate change than cooling, but that's because heating is more important. When it's hot, you just open your window, turn on a fan, or take off your clothes.

Why air conditioning won't save us? ›

It misses the ultimate irony: air conditioning itself contributes significantly to global warming. Most AC units still use refrigerants that are powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs) thousands of times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the main GHG.

Is air conditioning bad for climate change? ›

Still, as temperatures rise worldwide, more people are going to need to install air conditioners. But as currently sold, AC units can actually make global warming worse: On hot days, they suck tons of electricity from the grid, and their chemical refrigerants can accelerate global warming.

What if a human body has its own air conditioning system? ›

This is also why hot and humid days can be dangerous because your body's built-in air conditioning system may not keep itself cool. The body temperature ends up getting too high, which can lead to heat stroke and, in extreme cases, death.

How long can an AC run continuously? ›

Modern air conditioning units are designed to run 24 hours a day. There is no harm in having it run to keep your home cool all day long. If you wanted to, you could have your AC unit running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If your thermostat is set on “auto”, your AC compressor does not run 24 hours a day.

Is it better to keep AC on all day or just at night? ›

Your AC will actually run longer overall if it is left on all day instead of being shut off. If you turn it off for part of the day, it runs less and results in more energy savings for you. In almost all cases, it will save you money to shut off your AC while you are away from home.

Does turning the air on and off raise the bill? ›

Debunking a Common Air Conditioner Myth

While this might sound logical, this is actually 100% false. Why though? Sure, turning your air conditioner on uses energy, but if you're keeping your air conditioning system on at all times (including when you're not home) you're not using your air conditioner efficiently.

What is considered old for an air conditioner? ›

Modern air conditioners can last between 15-20 years, and older air conditioners last around 10-12 years. The health and efficiency of your A/C depends on a number of factors, including whether or not you properly maintained the unit throughout its lifetime.

Can an AC last 30 years? ›

Air conditioners can last 10-15 years depending on various factors, while HVAC systems can even go up to 30 years before needing to be replaced. A replacement, of course, will be heavy on your wallet.

What is the best time of year to replace an AC? ›

There is no doubt that the best time to replace HVAC systems is during the off-season. More than often, the off-season stretches from late September to mid-November and from early March to mid-May is the best time to replace HVAC system for your home or business.

Can an air conditioner last 40 years? ›

Furthermore, some air conditioners can last up to 40 years in extreme cases, but even with proper maintenance, this is extremely rare.

Is it bad to run AC at 60? ›

In most cases, especially in residential applications, you should not run your air conditioner when outdoor temperatures are below 60 degrees. The air conditioner does function, but you are going to burn out the compressor fairly quickly.

Should I replace my 40 year old AC unit? ›

Replace: If the system is more than a decade old, the A/C is likely living on borrowed time. Even when you have it fixed, it will probably display more issues just a few years down the line. If the A/C is more than 15 years old, it would probably be better to replace the unit.

Why do I sleep better without AC? ›

Because a lower physical temperature naturally promotes sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, taking steps to bring down your body heat can improve your summertime slumber.

How many Americans have no air conditioning? ›

As summers get hotter and extreme heat events become more common, it is increasingly uncomfortable to live without air conditioning. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the vast majority of American households do have air conditioning, but about 9% do not.

Should you run your AC everyday? ›

Only Run Your AC When Needed

Your AC is running when you hear and feel it pumping cool air into your space. Only run your AC system when your home reaches a temperature above your desired comfort level. This will not only keep it functioning better for longer, but it will also help you avoid costly electricity bills.

What is the best temperature to sleep in? ›

The best room temperature for sleep is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). This may vary by a few degrees from person to person, but most doctors recommend keeping the thermostat set between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 20 degrees Celsius) for the most comfortable sleep.

Is AC good for high blood pressure? ›

This difference was statistically significant. Similarly, diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was higher with AC, 69.4 +/- 8.9 mmHg, than without AC, 66.5 +/- 9.1 mmHg, while mean blood pressure was also higher in AC, 84.9 +/- 9.1 mmHg, than without, 79.9 +/- 7.7 mmHg. There was no significant change in pulse rate.

What is the ideal AC temperature for the human body? ›

The Normal human body temperature is 36-37 degree celsius. Hence, to take a temperature closer to 24 degrees is considered to be healthier for individuals in tropical regions like India.

Will AC prices go down in 2023? ›

HVAC prices are expected to rise in 2023 because of the new SEER2 standards. HVAC system prices will occur through installation and repair costs to homeowners and business owners. Increased prices for HVAC equipment will likely jump between 15% to 25% in the early months of 2023.

Are air conditioners more efficient than 20 years ago? ›

How much more energy-efficient are new air conditioners? New models have much higher energy efficiency ratings than your 20-year-old system. If your current AC unit has a SEER rating of ten or lower, you're wasting money while cooling your home. Modern AC systems use significantly less electricity to cool your home.

What is changing in air conditioners 2023? ›

What's Changing? On January 1, 2023 the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) is bumping up efficiency standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps. Air conditioners and heat pumps will need to meet these new minimum SEER ratings: 14 SEER for systems used in northern states (2022 requirement was 13)

How did people live in Florida without AC? ›

Before air conditioning, Florida homes were designed to take full advantage of natural airflow. Most were built of wood and raised off the ground on piers, allowing plenty of room for air to circulate under the house. Homes had wide wrap-around porches, large windows and rooms cooled with fans.

How did Cowboys stay cool? ›

More often than not, people simply drank cool drinks in order to stay cool and refreshed. They also wore light colored clothing made out of breathable cotton. In many cases, people would sleep outside so they could take advantage of the cool desert night breeze.

How did Southerners keep cool before air conditioning? ›

Thick screens were put on the windows to keep direct sunlight from shining into the house. Upstairs, the ceilings were lower and a home had twice as many windows in an attempt to let the hot air escape. Families put slip covers on all of the furniture to protect them from fading from the heat.

How do humans survive in 100 degree weather? ›

Humans are warm-blooded mammals. This means that they are protected by a mechanism called homeostasis, a process through which human brain — part called hypothalamus — regulates body temperature to keep it in the survival range.

How did pioneers stay cool in the summer? ›

Planting trees

All the homeowners had to do was to plant large trees on the east and west sides of the home to block the summer sun before it has the chance to warm the home's interior. These trees also cooled down the breezes before they entered the porch area.

How did people live in Arizona before AC? ›

To help stay cool, many houses had high ceilings to pull hot air up. Many houses also had a “sleeping porch”. During the summer, families in Phoenix would sleep outside on their porch. Some families even put water on their sheets to help keep cool.

Why do some people not like air conditioning? ›

For others, it comes down to priorities. Some say air conditioning in any form is a lifestyle indulgence. For others, the issue lies in a deep conviction that it's a waste of energy, and it's worth suffering a bit for the sake of the Earth. Some don't like the feel, or the noise, of AC.

Why is air conditioning bad for the climate? ›

Air conditioners pose another direct problem for the climate. Many of them use refrigerants that are also powerful heat-trapping gases. Chemicals like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) can be upward of 12,000 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

What is the main disadvantage of AC? ›

Given that an aircon removes humidity from the environment, it causes the skin to lose moisture if you stay in an air-conditioned room for a long duration. It can make your skin dry and sensitive. It can lead to dryness of mucous membrane and skin irritation. Apply moisturizer if you start to face these problems.

Is air conditioning a human right? ›

Any situation where a housing provider issues a complete ban on air conditioners and cooling devices without exceptions likely violates the Code and could lead to a human rights complaint. As the number of extreme heat waves increases, the right to accessible, adequate and safe housing should include air conditioning.

Is it healthier to live without air conditioning? ›

While not staying cool enough negatively impacted young people's brains, scientists say that it can be even worse for the elderly, children, or those with certain medical conditions.

Why don t British homes have air conditioning? ›

There are several reasons why few Brits have air-conditioning—the most obvious being the country's relatively mild weather. Average summer temperatures range between 55°F (13°C) and 75°F (24°C), and winters can last up to five months.

Does air conditioning make global warming worse? ›

Still, as temperatures rise worldwide, more people are going to need to install air conditioners. But as currently sold, AC units can actually make global warming worse: On hot days, they suck tons of electricity from the grid, and their chemical refrigerants can accelerate global warming.

What is the future of air conditioning? ›

A few of today's promising innovations include developing alternative air conditioning technologies, switching to renewable energy sources, and reducing peak cooling loads by designing buildings with external shading and passive cooling systems.

What is the new technology for cooling systems? ›

The technique, which they have named “ionocaloric cooling,” is described in a paper published on December 23, 2022, in the journal Science. Ionocaloric cooling takes advantage of how energy, or heat, is stored or released when a material changes phase – such as changing from solid ice to liquid water.

Who should not use air conditioner? ›

Asthma and allergies

AC can worsen conditions in people who have asthma or allergies.

How does air conditioning affect the lungs? ›

A/Prof Morgan explains that colder air from air conditioning can trigger irritations to either the upper airways (nose/throat) or lower airways. “If these airways are already swollen or inflamed, that will often trigger a sense of chest tightness and cough,” she says.

Do American prisons have air conditioning? ›

Nearly every state in the country does not have universal air conditioning in their prisons, a USA TODAY analysis found, illustrating a deadly problem for inmates and staff as climate change threatens to worsen conditions inside facilities.

Do prisons in Arizona have air conditioning? ›

The following states do not provide universal air conditioning to all their prisons: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Why does America have air conditioning? ›

American households are far more likely to have AC than their European counterparts in part because cool air has always been a necessity in some regions of the U.S., like the humid South and the desert Southwest.


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