that has made previously uninhabitable areas of the world home to millions of people. Tropical regions such as the Gulf used to have large portions of land that people could not live in, due to 90% humidity and soaring temperatures. Now, with the advent of air conditioning, those areas are densely populated¹. This is just one example of how the popularisation of air-conditioning has changed the landscape of where people live.
Similarly, major cities now look a lot different than they did before air conditioners became affordable. It was around World War II that the once too-expensive air conditioner became a more popular product that people could afford to buy. Beforehand, houses were designed with heat tolerating features, such as porches, high ceilings, eaves, windows that opened and fans². These features were expensive but entirely necessarily for tolerable summers. Thanks to air conditioning, homes no longer needed to be built with these features and became more affordable. People began to live in hot box homes that without air conditioning would not be liveable.
A curse for the environment
Clearly, air conditioning has made life possible in some of the hottest parts of the world, and has totally changed the landscape of how homes and cities are built. Lauded by many as a blessing, in fact for the environment, air condition has been nothing but a curse.
Air conditioning uses a huge amount of electricity. Electricity is in many parts of the world generated primarily by burning coal, which is a huge contributor to climate change. In fact, America uses more electricity for air conditioning than Africa uses for everything³. Unless your electricity comes from renewable sources, by using air conditioning you are contributing to climate change. Even if you do have solar panels on your roof which powers your home air conditioning, you’re still contributing to warming the environment. The hot air in your house has to go somewhere – and it is pushed outside to make space for the cold air, thus contributing to heat bubbles in your area or city⁴. These heat bubbles are known as urban heat islands and large ones can disrupt weather patterns.
The logic in our overuse of air-conditioning is circular and redundant. We can’t stand the heat, so we use air conditioning excessively, which in turn pushes out the hot air into the environment and makes it hotter.
Additionally, our use of air-conditioning burns fossil fuels, thus contributing to climate change and heating up the planet further. Air-conditioning is a masking tool, not a solution. It is keeping us cool as the planet heats up, eventually to the point of being uninhabitable.
How can we reduce our need to use air conditioners?
However, it’s not too late. There are many techniques that we can use to reduce our dependence on air conditioning. Try putting your bedsheets in the freezer for an hour before bed. Have cold showers. Spray cold water on your bed before you go to sleep. Keep the lights low or off. Let the cool air in through windows at night then close the windows and blinds to keep it in during the day. There are many options, and we all must do our bit to reduce the huge demand excessive air-conditioning is putting on our environment.