Washington Post writer Philip Kennicott notes that as temperature records were broken across the planet this summer, you could sense something shift in our relationship to air conditioning.
In a nutshell:
In 2023, Jeep introduced a new edition of its iconic SUV, making air conditioning a standard feature for the first time since its inception in 1986. This marks a significant shift, as air conditioning has become indispensable globally, especially in regions where extreme heat and climate change-induced challenges are prevalent. The reliance on air conditioning has profound environmental and societal implications, with the need for increased cooling systems contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and reshaping our daily lives. As temperatures continue to rise, the role of air conditioning evolves from a comfort-enhancing appliance to a critical life-support system, impacting education, migration patterns, and even societal structures. The history of air conditioning reveals its deep influence on American life, from architecture to politics, while raising questions about its role in our current climate crisis.
This appears to be the end of an era: “The last car in the U.S. without standard air conditioning,” read the headline of an article in the automotive press, “finally gives up the fight against refrigerant.”
The big picture:
The growing demand for air conditioning presents dual concerns for health and the environment. The increased use of air conditioners amplifies energy consumption, leading to a surge in greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to climate change. This, in turn, exacerbates the need for even more cooling systems, creating a concerning feedback loop. The environmental repercussions extend to higher outdoor temperatures in urban areas as well, often referred to as the "urban heat island" effect, which can negatively impact human health, especially among vulnerable populations. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can result in heat-related illnesses and mortality. So the widespread adoption of air conditioning, while offering immediate relief from rising temperatures, raises critical questions about its long-term sustainability and the need for innovative, eco-friendly cooling solutions.
Read the article at the Washington Post.
In 2021, EHN talked to people with disabilities put in increased danger during that summer's Pacific Northwest heat waves. Activists say accessible cooling centers and air conditioning are key to combating this injustice.