Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Over 500 air conditioning units are attached to the windows of the Fuzhou Dalijiacheng Building in China.Apparently, the building’s planners and designers didn’t consider installing a central air conditioning system. The locals refer to the facade as the “Air Conditioner Wall.” For more pics and video see Buzzaurus

Twenty years ago, a Cambridge University anthropologist became the first to sound the alarm.

'In 1992 he wrote the paper "On Condis and Coolth" in the academic journal Energy and Buildings, slamming air conditioning addicts. He labelled them "condis", and their preferred refrigerated climate, "coolth", arguing AC was the ultimate example of needless luxury in an already gluttonous society. In an elegant, influential tirade, Prins warned of worsening "global warming", a term so rarely used at the time that it still warranted inverted commas.

'Prins...once compared the Western world's AC addiction to drug users' crack cravings. "Once one's body has become addicted to air-conditioned air, one has extended one's range of basic, physiological human needs beyond food, shelter and warmth to an acquired need: Coolth," Prins wrote.'
This I learnt from an excellent article by Rob Sharp for The Independent entitled 'Air Conditioning: Cold Comfort, published in 2010 to coincide with the launch of  'Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World ' by Stan Cox which brought wider public attention to the problems associated with the increasing use of air-conditioning units in the US but also globally - particularly in India and China.

Cox revealed that 20 percent of electricity consumption in U.S. homes  - half a trillion kilowatts per year - is being used for air conditioning. This is as much electricity as the entire continent of Africa uses for all purposes. But the real problems now lie in Asia.

Cox told WBUR that there would be a 12-fold increase in electricty consumption for air conditioning in India from 2005-2020. He said in Mumbai alone, they are already seeing 40% of the electricty generated being consumed for air conditioning.

The latest figures show that air conditioning sales in India and China are now growing at 20 per cent a year. In 2011, 55% of new air-conditioning units were sold in the Asia-Pacific region which is now the industry's new production base. In 2011, China was buiklding more than 70% of the world's household air-conditioners for domestic use and export.

As if all this was not enough cause for concern, the New York Times has revealed a far more urgent problem than energy use. The most common coolant used in air-conditioning units - an inexpensive gas HCF-22 - has an effect on global warming which is 2,100 times that of carbon dioxide. [The Washington Post says 4,470 times]

As you may recall, concerns about the damage to the ozone layer led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol which succeeded in virtually eliminating the use of chloroflourocarbons (CFCs). [See Previous Post: Montreal Protocol: The World We Avoided]

 As a result, CFCs have been replaced in air conditioning units and many other appliances by HCFCs which are only mildly harmful to the ozone layer. Sales of these and similar gases have doubled in the past 20 years.

According to the New York Times, 'leading scientists in the field have just calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the newest gases currently employed in air conditioners, up to 27% of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050.'

The full and more complex version of this story is here:
'Cooler Homes, Hotter Planet' by Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew W. Lehren. INew York Times 1 July 2012]

See related and earlier story: CFC Replacements Intensify Climate Concerns' by David A. Fahrenthold [Washington Post. 19th July 2009}

Additional sources: Here is an interesting 40min radio interview with Stan Cox on Boston's WBUR station in May 2010. Read a good Q&A interview with Cox by Dan Watson, published in Grist: 'How Air Conditioning is Baking Our World.'

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