As Europe faces increasingly frequent and intense heat waves, like many other EU countries, you may have considered buying an air conditioner.
And even though you think it cools you down, it actually does just the opposite: It’s heating things up. Let’s find out why.
In France, the environmental impact of the use of air conditioning has become a topic of debate lately, especially when the left-wing MP Mathilde Panot mentioned during an interview with France inter that “the temperature of a city can increase up to 2 degrees Celsius due to the use of air conditioning”.
But where did you get that number from?
It comes from a study published in 2020 that is based on a scenario in which air conditioners are used in all buildings in a city like Paris to maintain an indoor temperature of 23 degrees Celsius during a heat wave.
Temperature increases due to the use of AC “depend on the time of day and the characteristics of the heat wave, mainly its intensity,” according to the study.
The scientists used the deadly 2003 heat wave, which killed more than 14,000 people in France, as a model for their predictions.
They found that after “9 days of a 2003-like heat wave, consistent AC use during that time would increase air temperatures by as much as 2.4°C.”
How is it possible? Because air conditioners work like a heat pump that cools a room by expelling hot air outside.
Air conditioners consume more electricity than any other appliance. They consume 10% of the world’s electricity and emit gases into the atmosphere that are harmful to the planet.
The relationship between the use of air conditioning and the increase in temperatures in cities is already documented.
According to research published in 2014 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, the excess heat generated by a city’s air conditioners can increase outdoor temperatures by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius at night.
And since cities are likely to get hotter as a result of climate change and increased development, that means humans will demand more indoor cooling.
Because a heat wave that would have been a once-a-decade event in the 1800s is now hotter and occurring nearly three times as often, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In 2019, 20% of households in the EU had an air conditioner, according to the European Environment Agency.
According to a 2019 report published by the International Energy Agency, the number of air conditioners worldwide is projected to skyrocket from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion by the middle of this century.
If left unchecked, by 2050 all the world’s air conditioners will consume as much electricity as China consumes today for all its activities.
The scientists responsible for the study give other options to help cool cities: among them, create more green spaces and better insulate buildings.
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