Why Your Goddam AC Is Ruining the Planet

Air conditioning
Air conditioning (Photo credit: niallkennedy)

I recently moved to a smaller apartment in Brooklyn, further south from the post-industrial, gentrified Williamsburg to the greener, more diverse Clinton Hill. The building is sheltered by a huge tree I wish I knew the name of, which has kindly lowered the temperature inside our small one-bedroom apartment. We realized we might not even need to turn on our AC. So we sold it, right after a heat wave hit New York and drove the temperature upwards of 95 F. This may not seem like the most intuitive move, but the thing is, I live with a very smart and compassionate environmentalist freak, and I am too weak to protest against an argument with which I also kind of agree: ACs are evil. They are like heroin. And they make worse the problem they are designed to solve, that is, global warming.

I am paraphrasing an excellent Gawker article I read the day after it was established (not that there was ever any doubt) that our AC would never see the light of day. And I felt great, I felt strong, because AC is for the weak, because it makes you weak. It stops the human body from acclimating to heat efficiently, so that you feel hotter, and have to have more AC.

“A hot summer day like today, in New York City, means countless wasted megawatts of electricity from stores pouring air conditioning into the street through open doors and offices which feel the need to maintain wintry indoor temperatures despite the beautiful sunshine outside. All of this contributes to guzzling of fossil fuels which will keep us dependent on foreign oil and dirty hydrofracking in the short term, and will overheat our planet and kill our species in the long term.”

Global mean surface temperature difference fro...

And hey, you thought that heat wave was bad? It gets worse, much worse. As part of their excellent climate change coverage, Mother Jones interviews Purdue climatologist Matthew Huber, who is “exploring the outer limits of just how much global warming human beings can tolerate.” All this of course paints a dire picture for humanity and whatever inconsequential-else roams the earth,

“By 2100, Huber points out, the mid-range estimates predict a rise of 3°C to 4°C in average global temperatures based on current economic activities, but those studies ignore accelerating factors like the release of vast quantities of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—now trapped beneath permafrost and sea ice that’s becoming less and less permanent.”

Hubert also comments on the AC dilemma,

“MJ: As global temperatures rise, people will resort to more air conditioning. To what degree will that energy-consumption feedback loop accelerate the warming?

Urban heat island profile

MH: The increased use of air conditioners is likely to have large deleterious impacts. The heat flux—into the “urban canyon”—in cities from the effluent of air conditioners will be substantial and add to the urban heat-island effect. The increased use of the power grid during peak hot conditions will place substantial and highly variable load on an already strained system. The power for the air conditioning has to come from somewhere, and for much of the world this means more burning of fossil fuels.”

So, come on guys, it’s pretty conclusive, climate change exists, it’s caused by humans, and dinosaurs did not love Jesus.

I lovelovelove that there’s actually talk about ACs this year. It was also a Room for Debate in the NYT, where a few good points were brought up, how it’s both crucial to the modern world and a necessity we can’t afford.

In our house, we understad AC is not where it stops. For a while, we were debating whether or not to turn our fridge off. We fantasized about what that would entail: no cold drinking water, buying more non-perishables, and buying only necessary perishables, like fruits and vegetables, almost every other day and in small quantities, so that there wasn’t time for them to rot.

What about organic produce? Should we absolutely also buy those, are they better for global warming? how much will that affect decomposition time? A lot, we guessed, so we almost always would have to eat at home. Or, the other less sustainable option, was to eat out every single night, but somehow that sounded worse environmentally. But is it? I’m not sure. Maybe a restaurant or a deli have their ovens on all day, and that sounds bad, but because they do, they can run these more efficiently and can produce food in mass.

So far, we got rid of the AC, and I finally bought mosquito repellent and this retro-looking lamp that is actually a mosquito un-beacon light, so that we can finally open the windows and let a little air in. We also started placing a bowl with water and a handkerchief of sorts next to our bed so that we could cool ourselves off at night, kind of like sweat, your natural, free coolant. Sounds pretty ghetto, but it works and feels great. Next will be the fan.

Someone, somewhere, sometime, will thank us, while cursing all the rest of you goddam AC horders.