This a response to Victor Pellicero Calvo’s article titled “Quit the Banter, Europe Needs Air Conditioning”.
There is no questioning that as the world becomes warmer, human lifestyles will have to adapt to harsher climates. However, adaptation must not come at the cost of worsening climate change. Building more air conditioning (AC) is not the answer. Hong Kong, a highly-developed city of 7 million with a tropical climate, spends 30% of its energy on AC. How is this energy produced? Primarily through Chinese coal plants. Indeed, the prospects of renewable energy are high, and the original article does tackle this dilemma.
If we could invest in renewables enough to compensate for the increased energy needs of AC, then surely we could and should build more AC. However, we have not yet reached the stage at which renewables constitute a significant share of our electricity production. The sector’s growth is too slow. We should focus on replacing current polluting energy production with renewables, rather than leave them in place and build more renewables to power more energy consumption. AC is a luxury, not a necessity. Increasing energy consumption is not a sustainable way to tackle climate change. Changing our energy production methods is useless if we do not consume less.
It is clear that AC is crucial in many situations. The argument here is not to destroy all AC units and let people suffer in the sun. We need AC for vulnerable populations like the elderly. However, what we need most is to invest in sustainable climate change coping mechanisms that do not worsen it. These exist, like the traditional Moroccan houses turned on the inside to reduce exposure to sunlight, or like the Greek houses painted white to deflect solar radiation. Chandigarh, a new city of 1.5 million in India built post-WWII, does not need AC for its massive public buildings thanks to innovative climate-aware architecture, despite temperatures reaching 45 Celsius. Modern technologies exist too, with window films capable of deflecting radiation and keeping the insides of buildings cool. These building solutions let us create long-lasting sustainable energy-saving situations.
The other great issue is that people do not know how to use AC. Too many giant malls are kept at 16 Celsius when outdoor temperatures reach 35 Celsius, with doors kept wide open, in a horrendous display of inefficiency and energy waste. This leads to numerous costs, with workers being less productive because they are too cold, and people getting sick because of temperature differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures. AC units are also generally poorly cleaned, making them hotbeds for microbes. AC will also increase pollution linked to energy production, leading to associated diseases.
Building more AC is a lazy solution that indicates that we are ready for more lazy options when tackling climate change. We need innovation, and we need to keep our heads and hopes high. Now is not the time to give up.
Fiederer, Luke. 2018. AD Classics: Master Plan for Chandigarh / Le Corbusier. 6 October. https://www.archdaily.com/806115/ad-classics-master-plan-for-chandigarh-le-corbusier.
2016. Hong Kong’s obsession with air conditioning is bad for us all. 7 October. https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2025857/hong-kongs-obsession-air-conditioning-bad-us-all.
2013. «Smart Use of Electricity.» HK Electric, Hong Kong.