Monday, July 12, 2010

Arguing Against Air Conditioning A Deadly Argument

Who is Stan Cox and why is he even attempting to argue that we should lose the air conditioners?
Washington didn't grind to a sweaty halt last week under triple-digit temperatures. People didn't even slow down. Instead, the three-day, 100-plus-degree, record-shattering heat wave prompted Washingtonians to crank up their favorite humidity-reducing, electricity-bill-busting, fluorocarbon-filled appliance: the air conditioner.

This isn't smart. In a country that's among the world's highest greenhouse-gas emitters, air conditioning is one of the worst power-guzzlers. The energy required to air-condition American homes and retail spaces has doubled since the early 1990s. 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.

A.C.'s obvious public-health benefits during severe heat waves do not justify its lavish use in everyday life for months on end. Less than half a century ago, America thrived with only the spottiest use of air conditioning. It could again. While central air will always be needed in facilities such as hospitals, archives and cooling centers for those who are vulnerable to heat, what would an otherwise A.C.-free Washington look like?
Does Cox forget that heat wave across France a few years back where more than 10,000 people - mostly the elderly died because they didn't have air conditioning. More than 20,000 across Europe died during that 2003 heat wave. Most were avoidable had they had access to air conditioning.

Air conditioning saves lives and helps make life a little more bearable during the summer. Could we do more to improve efficiencies with those air conditioning systems and to improve home effeciencies? Absolutely, but to argue against the air conditioner entirely because of the greenhouse emissions that are produced by coal and oil and gas powered power plants?

That's just nuts. The lack of air conditioning is all too frequently a death sentence for those who don't have them.

We've seen this play out time and time again.

Deadly heat waves in 1988 killed anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 in the US. A similar heat wave in 1980 killed more than 10,000 (one estimate up to 15,000). A heat wave in 1901 killed about 10,000. A 1936 heat wave killed nearly 5,000. A 1975 heat wave killed 1,500-2,000 people. A 1952 heat wave killed 1,401.

Those are not insignificant numbers.

And with climate change, one of the expected outcomes is warmer temperatures and more extreme heat waves, meaning that people will be exposed to hotter temperatures in coming years. That means that without access to air conditioning, the body count would surely rise.

So, getting back to the original question, the only thing that I've found on Stan Cox's background is that he is a plant breeder and author. That's not exactly credentials one would hope for if you're trying to argue this kind of position. He clearly doesn't get the history and how air conditioning saves lives.

He would do much better to argue for improved energy efficiency for those air conditioners and for home and office construction. Current standards clearly are insufficient to properly insulate homes to reduce energy consumption. Not only does new construction require more insulation, but retrofitting homes should become a priority to reduce energy usage down the road. It isn't going to be cheap either. Retrofitting insulation in older homes can be quite expensive, especially if you have to insulate walls.

However, there are a few things that the US can do to reduce its emissions - and that's to promote nuclear power, which has zero emissions that would contribute to global warming, climate change, or worsen air quality as current gas, coal, and oil powered plants do.

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