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Posted by on Jul 7, 2010 in Science & Technology, Society | 0 comments

Heating and Cooling

I like to think I try to be “green”.  But I’m guilty of being a hypocrite when the thermometer rises in the summer.  Here in the Pacific Northwest summer suddenly hit us after a cool if not cold spring.  It was 67 on Monday, 87 on Tuesday and 97 today. I’ve lived in the Portland area for most of my 64 years but  moved into my first house with central air conditioning about 9 years ago.  I survived without it most of my life in part because here hot weather is usually accompanied by very low humidity – it was 97 today but the relative humidity was about 12%.  That not only makes it more bearable during the day but means it will cool off into the upper 50’s tonight.  Certainly survivable and I did survive for most of my life.  But the last two days I fired up the air because I could.  And I’m not alone.

Heat wave air conditioners of doom

When I lived in Taiwan in the mid-1980s, a version of the same news story would run every summer, right after temperatures spiked to their highest point of the year: “Electricity consumption breaks all-time records!”

The news was reported with pride, no matter how badly the nation’s electricity generating capacity was stressed, or how close the big cities came to black outs. Because the underlying narrative was the story of a nation whose standard of living was leaping forward each year — in this case, as measured by the growing number of Taiwanese who were able to enjoy the civilized blessing of air-conditioning.

During the summer, air conditioners are one of the biggest single components of electricity demand, a point amply illustrated this week in both China and the United States, where concurrent heat waves are pushing electricity consumption to all-time highs. In China, we’re seeing the same Taiwanese tale of a developing nation galloping up the affluence ladder, writ large. The Chinese middle class is chilling out like never before. On the East Coast of the United States — where the market for air conditioning is mature — the story is a bit different.

It’s just hot.

And all those air conditioners are contributing  CO2 and contributing to global warming – that includes mine.  Feel free to call me a hypocrite because I am. 

Once again, yes, it is a fool’s errand to attempt to directly connect the heat waves in China and the U.S. this week, or the high temperatures that ravaged India and Pakistan last month, to CO2 emissions and climate change. But there’s no doubt that high temperatures translate immediately into increased burning of fossil fuels — and, inevitably, increased concentrations of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. This year is on track to be one of the hottest years in the historical record. If fossil fuel consumption is contributing to a warmer world, then our efforts to cool ourselves are only going to make matters worse.

And there are still quite a few people in China and India and elsewhere who do not yet have air conditioners — but intend to get them. Wanna save the world? Invent a low-power home cooling mechanism.

Cross posted at Newshoggers

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