Paradox: Indoor AC Cooling is Causing Global Warming


Image from giglig.com

There’s no question about it; this summer is hot.  And while I may sit here typing in an apartment, sweltering in thick air uncooled by any device, I know for a fact that my little window AC unit is going to be working hard to keep me nice cool tonight.  That, however, is the problem.  A rise in AC units is beginning to worry conservationists and they are scrambling for solutions to quickly solve a mounting global warming issue.

AC units consume energy—obviously—and we in the U.S. are enamored with these indoor air-cooling devices; me included, and have been for quite some time.  The use of AC units in developing nations like India and China is on the rise, and who’s to blame them?  They suffer from the same heat and humidity in the East as we do in the West, and if they have the ability to, there is no reason not to pick up an AC unit.

The problem is that old-style units use HCFC’s to fuel them, which are closely related to CFC’s that harm the ozone layer, though HCFC’s do so to a lesser degree.  Newer units use a different fuel called 410a, which may not harm the ozone layer but do produce a global warming compound more potent than the often talked about CO2 greenhouse gas.

Thus, conflict reigns.  First off, people can’t even agree that there is a problem—as is the case with any issue regarding global warming.  Beyond that, people cannot agree on how to solve said issue.  Some developed nations point their finger on developing nations, wanting them to ease off on their manufacturing of older style models, and carefully watch their consumption.  Others point their finger at everyone, demanding an end to air-conditioning, even claiming that it has coddled humans into becoming a weaker species than our recent ancestors.  (To me, both these options are unjust and foolish.  AC has allowed humans to inhabit areas and climates once thought inhospitable.  It was invented to help prevent malaria and continues to help the elderly and young survive hot summers.)

Using alternative fuel is another option that would allow the global use of AC, without causing harmful side effects to our planet.  Using hydrocarbons, and heat from waste, AC units could be fueled from a pretty much renewable resource.  This fuel has already been created, though it has yet to be fully safety tested—crucial since hydrocarbons are fairly flammable—and still needs to be patented.  Still, some units running on this fuel have already been manufactured, and no problems have been announced.

There are other suggestions and complaints.  Apparently architects have gotten lazy since indoor cooling systems have been around.  Old structures that had arches and causeways that allowed for cool air to flow are no longer constructed, and if you want them, prepare for a pricey renovation.  Fans and open windows suffice to climates that don’t suffer from unbearable humidity, while attaching ice cubes to your forearms can keep you cool in the more muggy climates.

As for me, I’m going to sit back and take in the cool air from my window unit at the end of the day.  I’ll wait anxiously for the newer, more environmentally safe units.  Until then, my environmental conscience will only allow me to use my AC when I need it, but I’m definitely going to enjoy it.

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