Quit the Banter, Europe Needs Air Conditioning

As climate change becomes increasingly visible, there is no question heat waves are becoming more prevalent. Last summer, Europe witnessed record-breaking temperatures in a heat wave that took millions by surprise.[1] For example, Scandinavia, a region not used to temperatures above the 30o C mark, saw temperatures extending above 32o C. As a result, the region was shocked when a number of wildfires ravaged its forests.[2]

When it comes to heat waves, the human cost is equally important. In 2003, Europe experienced one of its worst heat waves, which led to the death of thousands of people that quite literally did not stand the heat.[3] Lesson learned; European countries like France mandated air conditioning to be installed to protect those most vulnerable to high temperatures (i.e. the elderly in nursing homes, poorer communities).[4] Another catastrophe like this could not be repeated.

Air conditioning (AC) presents itself not as a way to stop climate change, but to adapt to it. Nonetheless, a lot of European households are uncomfortable with the idea of using this technology as they think it is a dangerous source of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, only 5% of French households use AC.[5] The situation highlights the dilemma between the need to adapt to climate change and the consequence of worsening the situation when adapting to it. Can the two be reconciled?

It is possible, but not without change. AC currently accounts for 10% of global energy demand, most of which is met with fossil fuels.[6] Normally-cooler European countries, those that traditionally did not need AC, are expected to increase their AC use threefold by 2030.[7] Thus, there exist two problems: the source this new energy will
come from, and whether these European countries will be able to meet the increased demand for AC electricity. In order to address both problems, and to make it more acceptable for the general population, cleaner energy sources, that is sources that produce less greenhouse gases (i.e. hydropower, nuclear energy), should be further developed, just like France has done in the past with its nuclear power complex. At the end of the day, AC is just one of the many reasons why the EU needs to adapt its production and consumption of energy to renewable energy supply. There is an obvious incentive in keeping fossil fuels, but cleaner energy sources are the right way to address the acceptability and availability of energy in its warmer-than-usual future.

Climate change is here, and although we can mitigate its effects, adapting to the phenomenon is not a matter of willingness, but rather a need to adapt. Europe, a region that is not used to the use of air conditioning, will have to find a way to adapt its energy supply to the current climate change dilemma. Yes, Europe has not needed AC in the past. However, AC is needed and we need to adapt to it. Let’s quit the banter, Europe needs air conditioning.

Victor Pellicero Calvo

[1] Miller, Brandon. “Deadly Heat Waves to Become More Common.” CNN, July 27, 2018. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/19/world/killer-heat-waves-rising/index.html.

[2] Miller, Brandon. “Record-Breaking Summer Marches on to the Beat of Climate Change.” CNN, July 24, 2018. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/23/world/global-heatwaves-climate-change-wxc/index.html.

[3] “European Heat Wave of 2003.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, March 15, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/event/European-heat-wave-of-2003.

[4] Sbovoda, Michael. “‘Fatal Isolation’ Delves into Lethal 2003 Paris Heat Wave.” Yale Climate Connections, August 27, 2015. https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/08/new-analysis-of-2003-fatal-paris-heat-wave/.

[5] Schoffield, Matthew. “Hotter Days, but Much of Europe Still Cool toward Air Conditioning.” The Seattle Times, August 15, 2015. https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/hotter-days-but-much-of-europe-still-cool-toward-air-conditioning/.

[6] Phillips, Leigh. “In Defense of Air-Conditioning.” Jacobin Magazine, August 30, 2018. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/08/air-conditioning-climate-change-energy-pollution

[7] Klein, Daniel, Mady Olonscheck, Carsten Walther, and Jürgen Kropp. “Susceptibility of the European Electricity Sector to Climate Change.” Energy 59 (September 15, 2013): 183–93.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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