Modeling Study: Increased use of A/C to cope with predicted heat waves in 2050 will kill more due to increased air pollution from the A/C
One day, in the not-so-far future, the Earth will be hotter. It already gets reallyfreaking hot, but this is just the beginning. With heat becoming ever more unbearable, there’s one thing that’s certain: Air conditioners will save us all.Right? Well, not quite.A new study published recently in PLOS Medicine reminds us that lives will be lost elsewhere as long as air conditioners draw their energy from oil, gas, or coal. Why? Blame air pollution—our addiction to dirty fuels throws particulate matter and ozone into the air. Electricity production is already the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and as our ACs eat up more of it, we get more emissions.The authors believe their study is the first to estimate how many people may die from an increased dependence on AC as temperatures rise. The conclusion? The increased air pollution could lead to an average of 654 more deaths annually in the U.S. from particulate matter, and 315 additional deaths from ozone by midcentury. Per the study, this could amount to a $9 billion annual drain on the economy.These are just estimates based on models, and there’s a great deal of uncertainty in them. The analysis is, however, a cautionary exploration of how our dependence on oil, gas, and coal will become more deadly as we rev up our energy demand to cool entire buildings to avoid heat stress.“Air conditioning saves lives from heat waves,” said Jonathan Patz, a co-author on the study who directs the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Global Health Institute, to Earther. “But if the electricity to run air conditioners requires coal-fired power plants, then we have a problem.”The researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at how climate change itself would affect air pollution and, in turn, human health before turning their attention toward how air conditioning will make this even worse. The model fast-forwards to “the most realistic scenario” for our energy system, as Patz put it, in the year 2069. Here, our buildings haven’t changed much (in terms of structure and energy efficiency), and our electricity system has transitioned to more natural gas use and the retirement of some nuclear power plants. The team worked carefully to produce a future that seems most realistic given current energy and building trends.However, the researchers were only able to use temperaturedata from a single month—July—and based a three-month summer on that.The findings aren’t intended to scare people away from enjoying their summer days or to shame them from using their air conditioners. They’re really to highlight that these potential impacts are one possibility. A shift toward renewables and better-insulated buildings would make energy production 1) cleaner and 2) more efficient. Luckily, solar and renewables
are winning around the world even if the federal government attempts to thwart their success. “Getting to clean energy can happen quite quickly,” Patz said.Summers are growing warmer, and we’ll need cooler air—especially for our young students to focus during school hours, and for the sick and elderly. But using air conditioners shouldn’t be a careless act, not when some people are dying from the air pollution they create—and especially when these people are more likely to be low-income or of color.That can change. Keep that in mind next time you crank your central cooling system to high.
Reality Check from Tony Heller of The Deplorable Climate Science Blog:
“This week in 1911, a heatwave killed more than 2,000 people in New England – because they didn’t have air conditioners. Similar heatwaves occurred in 1896, 1901 and 1913. Many thousands of people died in the 1934 and 1936 heatwaves,” Heller told Climate Depot on July 9, 2018.
In addition, Heller reported: The 1913 heat was across most of the country and lasted all summer.
Climate Depot note: This is not the first time a war on air conditioning has been waged:
2016: Washington’s War Against Your Air Conditioner – John Kerry explained in a speech in New York last month, the Obama administration targeted HFCs. Kerry conceded that since ratification of the Montreal Protocol “nearly 100 of the most ozone-depleting substances have been completely phased out. As a result, the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and on its way to full repair.” “The bad news is that the substances banned by the Montreal Protocol have been replaced by substances that cause a different kind of danger,” Kerry said. “HFCs may be safer for the ozone, but they are exceptionally potent drivers of climate change itself, often thousands of times more potent than, for example, carbon dioxide.”
Kerry: Regulating refrigerator chemicals are ‘of equal importance’ to battling ISIS – Kerry made the remarks as part of a pep talk for negotiators working through the weekend to amend a 1987 treaty called the Montreal Protocol to deal with the chemicals used as refrigerants. “Yesterday, I met in Washington with 45 nations — defense ministers and foreign ministers — as we were working together on the challenge of [the Islamic State], and terrorism,” he said. “It’s hard for some people to grasp it, but what we — you — are doing here right now is of equal importance because it has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself.”
2015: Discovery Mag.: ‘Is Air Conditioning Killing the Planet?’ – ‘The desire for a more comfortable and cooler home and office will likely make the planet bake even faster.’
2010: Lifestyle Control: In the heat wave, the case against air conditioning — Call to end ‘lavish use in everyday life’ – ‘Turning buildings into refrigerators burns fossil fuels, which emits greenhouse gases, which raises global temperatures, which creates a need for — you guessed it — more air-conditioning…health benefits during severe heat waves do not justify its lavish use in everyday life’
NYT: ‘Should Air-Conditioning Go Global, or Be Rationed Away?’ — Is A/C a modern-day right like clean water…or an unsustainable luxury that we should give up or ration?’ – Author Stan Cox [email protected] says A/C is ‘A Luxury the World Can’t Afford’ — ‘The resulting greenhouse emissions create need for even more air-conditioning there’s little we can say until we end our own society’s dependence on lavish cooling’
NYT laments: ‘How Bad Is Your Air-Conditioner for the Planet?’ ‘Releases 100 million tons of CO2 each year’ – NYT: ‘Air-conditioning releases about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.’ ‘The widespread availability of air-conditioning has allowed for more development in the hotter parts of the country — the South and the Southwest — where air-conditioning use is the highest in the country.’ ‘There may be a time in the future when the climate in some places will be so hot that air-conditioning won’t be able to maintain comfortable temperatures.’