The AC Conundrum: Cooler Inside, Hotter Outside

ACs Speed Up Climate Change

As the world heats up, the demand for air conditioning skyrocketing. But widespread use of AC may make warming worse as equipment is known to leak refrigerants that contribute to emissions. Combined with energy use from traditional fans, accounts for 20% of the total electricity used in buildings worldwide. And much of that power is still fossil-fuel generated.

Lily Riahi, of the United Nations Environment Program explained the urgency of the issue to DW: We need to get out of this cycle. The way we currently cool our homes and workplaces is a huge driver of climate change."

CNBC: How Air Conditioning Is Warming The World, July 24, 2021.

Why This Matters

As global warming intensifies, keeping houses cool is a matter of life or death. Hot weather claims 12,000 lives a year, and this number will only grow if climate change is not mitigated. The World Health Organization calculates that by 2030, extreme heat could cause an additional 38,000 deaths annually.

But we need to look to ways we can cool our homes sustainably. If we don't, California's example of its current cooling-energy feedback loop may just spread beyond state lines and throughout the world. According to a recent study, California's emissions have soared due to population growth and energy-sapping water projects implemented to mitigate the effects of last year’s record-breaking drought.

New Ways to Keep Cool

Luckily, there are many eco-friendly ways to keep buildings cool. Exterior shading, green roofs, or solar reflective paint on buildings can keep them from absorbing too much heat. Adding more trees and green spaces to cities can also help, as the heat-island effect can make neighborhoods without greenery much warmer than other areas.

Egyptian architect Sarah El Battouty has found promising results in cooling buildings solely with smart design. Among a number of design solutions, her company has used porous limestone and sandstone and even lifted buildings off the ground. As a result, some buildings have cooled as much as 10 degrees Celsius.

The Economist: How to cool a warming world, November 12, 2021.

Crux: White Paint That Could Replace Air Conditioning | Game Changer For Climate Change?, September 18, 2021.