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The High Cost of Cool Air

Air conditioning has drastically changed modern life and the ways cities have developed. But, the environmental consequences are immense, and it’s time to cut back.
September 14, 2019, 11am PDT | Camille Fink
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Rafael De Nadai

"Buying an air conditioner is perhaps the most popular individual response to climate change, and air conditioners are almost uniquely power-hungry appliances: a small unit cooling a single room, on average, consumes more power than running four fridges, while a central unit cooling an average house uses more power than 15," writes Stephen Buranyi in a feature piece that traces the history of air conditioning.

There are more than 1 billion single-room air conditioning units in the world today, and that number is expected to rise to 4.5 billion by 2050. But air conditioning was not always the norm, says Buranyi. Before the late 1940s, it was a novelty, but then it took off in the United States as builders and architects looked to put homes in inhospitable climates and energy companies worked to increase consumer demand.

Since then, air conditioning has helped fuel urbanism and the rise of cities around the world as part of the spread of globalization. Solutions to addressing the use of air conditioning include improving the technology, reclaiming design strategies that worked before air conditioning was available, and changing the perception that it is a necessity. "Cutting down on air conditioning doesn’t mean leaving modernity behind, but it does require facing up to some of its consequences," notes Buranyi.

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Published on Thursday, August 29, 2019 in The Guardian
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