Monday, July 25, 2016

Is it hot in here or is it just me?

"Global temperatures are on course for another record this year" screamed the New York Times headlines.  We have measurements that summers are really hotter than we experienced in the past, and it is not our minds playing tricks on us as we get older.

Combine the real heat with population that is getting older, and you have people like my father complaining about the temperature in the part of the old country where the only seasons are hot, hotter, and hottest.  In a post five hot summers ago, I wrote about how in the past we survived all that without the modern air conditioning.  Even I played outside under the blazing sun, and I never gave it a second thought back when I was a kid.

In addition to the hotter conditions and an older population, we also have another dimension: People are getting richer.  As the US started becoming rich, and as the air-conditioning technology developed, "the South became suddenly more comfortable to live and work in."  Even the cat on the hot tin roof preferred to be inside the cooler conditions.  Similarly, we can expect people all around the world to start air conditioning their homes and offices because they are now able to, right?  What will that mean?
As incomes rise around the world and global temperatures go up, people are buying air conditioners at alarming rates. In China, for example, sales of air conditioners have nearly doubled over the last five years. Each year now more than 60 million air conditioners are sold in China, more than eight times as many as are sold annually in the United States.
Think about that number for a second: 60 million AC units in one year.  And that is only one country.  Think about India. Nigeria. Tanzania. You think that people will willingly live in oppressive conditions if they can afford air conditioning?  We can expect to see a lot more climate controlled built environments around the world.

But, those AC units need electricity. And lots of it.
A typical room air conditioner, for example, uses 10-20 times as much electricity as a ceiling fan.
Meeting this increased demand for electricity will require billions of dollars of infrastructure investments and result in billions of tons of increased carbon dioxide emissions. A new study by Lawrence Berkeley Lab also points out that more ACs means more refrigerants that are potent greenhouse gases.
I suppose one solution here is to simply deny climate change and call global warming a hoax;)

But, not all of us are irrational and crazy.  Thankfully.  However, even the rational folks need to be convinced that we need to pay for the carbon that we use:
Our homes and businesses tend to be very energy-intensive. In part, this reflects the fact that carbon emissions are free. Energy would be more expensive with a price on carbon, so more attention would go to building design. Natural shade, orientation, building materials, insulation and other considerations can have a big impact on energy consumption. We need efficient markets if we are going to stay cool without heating up the planet.     
For this to happen, we need responsible politicians and governments.  Which means, ahem, we are screwed!  So, crank up that AC and party like there is not going to be a tomorrow!

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