Wildfires along the coast, record hot temperatures around the globe, drought, and depleting aquifers; there’s no question, the world is warming up. The impacts of global warming will be felt across every industry; everyone will have to reckon with both new problems and new opportunities as the shape of our society mutates to grapple with the reality of a new, hotter Earth. Air conditioning is climate control, so the industry finds itself in a peculiar position in relation to climate change.
Our industry has come under fire because of the energy needed to cool off, and some people are giving air conditioning the cold shoulder. They’re worried that AC is unnecessary; it isn’t, it saves lives, dehumidifies, and allows us to build to the skies. They worry that it’s a matter of convenience that we could all just eschew; what they don’t realize is that heating homes takes more energy than cooling does.
The industry takes these concerns very seriously, nonetheless. Manufacturers are constantly creating new units with better energy efficiency. They are being made as leakproof as possible, so refrigerants don’t enter the atmosphere, and smart consoles are being developed to cool the perfect amount, so there’s no wasted power. Addressing climate change is everybody’s duty.
AC is booming in newly-industrialized countries like China and India; these places get incredibly hot, and cooling off is allowing them to create advanced service sectors, as well as bringing comfort to their middle class. There is a problem, however; global warming is making these places both hotter and more humid. There are theories that parts of India will literally become too hot to live in. A key concept to understand here is wet-bulb heat. Imagine you take a wet cloth at the same temperature as the room you’re in, and put it over the bulb of a thermometre. As the water evaporates from the cloth, it will cool, and the thermometre will read as colder than the room actually is. When the air is saturated, however, the wet-bulb will read the same as a dry-bulb. Wet-bulb temperatures of 35 degrees or higher are quite lethal, and being outside for even a few hours can cause the body to overheat drastically.
Fortunately, there’s a machine known both to cool and dehumidify, and that machine is the air conditioner. Dismissing it as a cause for climate change is reductive; it’s in fact a solution for many of the symptoms of global warming, and will allow emerging economies to flourish without risking the health of their citizens.