As Air Conditioning Use Rises, So Do Global Temperatures

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The most startling anomaly that signals more bad news for Earth’s climate: the more air conditioning humans use, the warmer the planet gets as a result. Consequently, as the planet warms up, people will continue to crank up their air conditioners even higher.

It’s a vicious circle that has become especially pronounced during the 21st century.

From 1993 to 2005, as summers grew hotter and homes got larger, residential air conditioning’s energy consumption in the U.S. alone doubled; by 2010, it jumped another 20%.

And as incomes throughout the developing world have risen, the number of people worldwide who own an air conditioner has also exploded, as one recent study found. When most developing countries are located in some of the world’s hottest places, these new air conditioning owners are bound to use tons of energy to cool their homes

According to the Washington Post, one example of this trend is Mexico. While a mere 13% of homes in this country have air conditioning now, experts expect air conditioning adoption to reach 71 to 81% by the end of the century. Subsequently, the country’s carbon dioxide emissions would jump to nearly 30 million tons every year.

Nations like India, China, Indonesia and Brazil are other candidates for this rapid adoption of air conditioning, says the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most of the energy that powers air conditioning systems worldwide come from non-renewable sources like coal and fossil fuels, which both contribute to climate change. Additionally, air conditioners expel harmful refrigerants into the atmosphere that trap the sun’s heat.

It’s about more than just global warming, however. Many developing nations don’t have the kinds of electricity grids in place to accommodate the huge energy demand that air conditioning creates, either.

“I think this is a huge challenge,” said Lucas Davis, an Associate Professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and lead author of the paper. “This is just a huge challenge for electricity markets, for electricity systems, for electricity infrastructure. This means an enormous increase in the need for electricity generation and transmission. This is gonna cost a lot of money.”

As the developing world struggles to adapt its infrastructure to the needs of its people — and as global climate change makes the world hotter by the year, making it more necessary to cool one’s home — it’s evident this situation has no clear solution. Unless renewable energy sources immediately become more affordable and accessible, it seems there’s not much that can be done.

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