Self | Global Warming

The Paradox of Air Conditioning

Can we overcome our addiction to cold air?

Sean Kernan
5 min readSep 29, 2023

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Pexels Images via Zhang kaiyv

Air conditioning is a glaring contradiction of the modern era. By cooling ourselves off, we make the world hotter.

It’s most egregious in dense urban areas, where AC units pull hot air out of homes and into the streets, raising local temperatures and causing other units to work harder (also called the Urban Heat Island Effect). This energy consumption, heating, and re-cooling, creates a vicious cycle that contributes to long-term warming — and ridiculous electric bills.

Even worse, our cities aren’t equipped for what’s to come. During recent heat waves, entire grids collapsed because of record AC use — such as in Texas, which is extremely vulnerable and had 6 grids go down in 2022.

So how do we deal with the rising ubiquity of air conditioning without melting? There are a few options.

“Why not just use less AC?”

As a long-time Floridian, it’s hard to imagine life without air conditioning. During hurricanes, the loss of electricity and subsequent heat creates enormous health risks to local residents and leads to heat strokes and deaths.

People often forget: One of the main reasons southern states became so populated was because of the commercialization of AC in the 1930s. These states weren’t a realistic option for many people before that. Even for those who can tolerate heat, your home’s continued exposure to humidity can lead to mold and mildew, and create other health risks.

Yet people around the world manage to live without it. A full 88% of Americans have air conditioning, while only 20% do in Europe. The distinction is driven by both geography and culture.

The United States is unique in being a large, wealthy nation, whose populations live in mostly warm and humid areas. Whereas in Europe, it’s much cooler as a whole, and people are more eager to take action on global warming. They know air conditioning burns through far more energy than heating, so they knowingly tolerate warmer temperatures to help. Yet they are facing increasingly hot summers that are putting that commitment to the test.

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Sean Kernan

Former financial analyst turned writer. Always on the hunt for a good story. That guy from Quora. Writing out of Tampa, Florida.