Record summer temperatures are rising. And with it, the effects of AC - MUV

Record summer temperatures are rising. And with it, the effects of AC

31 July 2023

As the summer heats up, high temperatures are setting records across the globe. The month of June broke several temperature records, surpassed by the first week of July. July 6th set a record for the highest global average temperature ever recorded: 17.23ºC.[1] On 24 July, the thermometer in Palermo reached 47 degrees.[2] Never since 1865.

Scientists expect increasingly hotter temperatures to be the new normal[3] as we begin to feel the effects of climate change more severely, especially if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the present rate.[4] So, as we continue the race to a clean energy transition and emissions reductions, how do we stay cool?

Is air conditioning the answer to surviving the summer heat?

Investing in and using air conditioning (AC) is extremely tempting as a way to cope with the heat, but AC can actually cause more harm than good. 

One of the biggest issues with air conditioning is its high energy usage.[5]  AC units use more electricity than any other household appliance[6] and often decrease efficiency when outside humidity and temperatures increase.[5] This high electricity use not only has a high monetary cost, but when fossil fuel power plants produce the electricity powering AC units, they contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions as well as air pollution.[7]

Another major problem of air conditioning is leakage of their coolant – typically a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) which is a greenhouse gas with a far greater warming power than other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.[8] Household AC units typically lose around 10% of their coolant in a year.[6] Since the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, 150 countries, including the European Union, have committed to gradually phasing out HFCs and replacing them with more environmentally-friendly coolants.[9] However, existing air conditioners will continue to have problematic leakage and high energy use, and new alternatives are not yet able to completely replace HFCs.

AC’s impact on climate change, which is causing higher global temperatures and air pollution has severe health consequences. AC can have other unintentional health impacts, such as preventing people from acclimating to the climate in which they live and thus increasing their vulnerability to heat and humidity.[8] There are also, however, health benefits associated with AC, including better sleep[10] and safe indoor temperatures.[11]

Staying cool and comfortable without AC

It’s important to take care of yourself in the heat and avoid heat illnesses. In extreme heat or the case of certain health conditions, AC can become necessary, but there are a lot of creative ways you can keep yourself and your house comfortable without AC or with minimal AC.

Start with electric fans which use 99% less energy than AC.[12] To increase the effectiveness of the fan, be mindful of how you position it. Try to keep fans on the floor to circulate the cool air at the bottom of the room,[13] and in the evenings, place them opposite open windows to draw in the cooler air.[14] To add extra cooling power to fans, place ice or a frozen bottle wrapped in a wet towel in front of your fan to decrease the temperature of the air the fan is circulating.[15] Try it out and let us know!

Other easy tips to stay cool are to stay hydrated, open windows and blinds/curtains only when it is cooler outside than inside, wear loose, light clothes, do the bulk of your cooking in the morning when it is cooler, hang wet towels or sheets inside, and take a cool shower or head to the pool or beach.[14]

When temperatures peak and these solutions aren’t enough, AC can provide relief. To minimize the AC’s energy use, use it in conjunction with a fan and set the AC to 25ºC.[20] 

Other technical cooling solutions are in various phases of development, spurred on by the increasing severity and frequency of heat waves. Scientists are considering inventions from personal cooling devices to cooling clothes modeled after Saharan arts.[21]

While we await revolutionary technologies that will change the way we stay cool, we can each employ the easy, sustainable cooling strategies listed above to minimize our environmental impact and make it through the summer! 💪☀️


















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