Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blow hot and cold

Ever thought how much your air-conditioning costs the climate? A rough estimate by an expert puts residential, commercial, and industrial air conditioning worldwide as consuming at least one trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. With global consumption for cooling projected to grow to 10 trillion kilowatt-hours per year — equal to half of the world’s entire electricity supply today — the climate forecast will be grim indeed.
The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency predicts that in a warming world, the increase in emissions from air conditioning will be faster than the decline in emissions from heating; as a result, the combined greenhouse impact of heating and cooling will begin rising soon after 2020 and then shoot up fast through the end of the century. Refrigerants that accumulate in the atmosphere between now and 2050 (increasingly HFCs, mostly from refrigeration and air conditioning) will add another 14 to 27 percent to the increased warming caused by all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions.
The United States has long consumed more energy each year for air conditioning than the rest of the world combined. In fact, it uses more electricity for cooling than the entire continent of Africa, home to a billion people, consumes for all purposes. The climate impact of air conditioning buildings and vehicles in the US is now that of almost half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. But by 2020 China is poised to take over this lead, thanks to the population lead. India too will predominate — already, about 40 percent of all electricity consumption in the city of Mumbai goes for air conditioning. The Middle East is already heavily climate-controlled, but growth is expected to continue there as well.
Vehicle air conditioners in the United States alone use 7 to 10 billion gallons of gasoline annually. And thanks largely to demand in warmer regions, it is possible that world consumption of energy for cooling could explode tenfold by 2050, giving climate change extra momentum.

But look at it, this is a vicious circle. The hotter it gets, the more need for air conditioning and that in turn makes things hotter. Add to it the loss of green cover in cities, and you have heat islands cooled inside and spewing heat into the surroundings. A pertinent question here is: why do these reports invariably focus on China and India, while glossing over the Middle East that sees habitual waste of energy that comes cheap? Why for instance does this report for instance make a big issue of how heating takes much less energy (direct process) than cooling which uses fossil fuels? A matter of convenience as the developed world needs more of heating??  How can a populace that has lived lavishly, almost opulently, on ‘abundant’ energy tell the rest of the world to go slow on ‘air-conditioning’??
Of course, as responsible citizens of the planet, it must make everyone think and change ways which aggravate climate change.

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