Code red air-pollution alerts: another A/C-powered treadmill

In A/C news on September 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm

The end of August saw extreme air-pollution alerts being issued in cities across the country. In a September 1 NPR report entitled “Heat waves are bad for (even the healthiest) lungs“, Elizabeth Shogren found children and adults in Washington, D.C., taking refuge in the air-conditioned indoors from air pollutants that can be attributed in part to heavy use of . . . you guessed it . . . air-conditioning:

SHOGREN: That means that even healthy children should limit their time outside on code orange days when the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups, and on code red days, when the air is bad for everyone. Ozone and fine particles are the two types of pollution that trigger code red and orange days. Both are formed out of the exhaust from power plants, cars and a lot of other things . . .

Dr. NORMAN EDELMAN: So if you look down the airway of somebody exposed to excessive ozone, it would look like a bad sunburn of the airways.

SHOGREN: And since children’s airways are a lot smaller than adults, it doesn’t take much swelling to cause an asthma attack.

High levels of fine particles also trigger bad air days in summertime, especially in the east. Coal-fired power plants are the main culprit, and on the hottest days, they’re working at full tilt to keep air conditioners running.

Air pollution is often cited by parents as a reason to keep kids in the A/C. But by running the A/C, they are running a pollution treadmill.

  1. This reminds me of when I first began getting interested in economic issues and theory years back. I was living in DC in an apartment next to a road with a fair amount of diesel bus and truck traffic. We didn’t have A/C (my crazy roommate didn’t even buy a fan despite the often sweltering heat and humidity) and so our windows were open pretty much all the time. (Even in winter–it was an old building and we were on the 5th floor, and so much heat came up from the other apartments and un-insulated pipes that it was always hot in there no matter how cold it got outside, even though we had all the radiators turned as far down as we could get them.) There was always a thick, disgusting, greasy coating of diesel soot on the window sills. Seeing that stuff made me think twice about going outside for a jog. When I came across Milton and Rose Friedman’s book FREE TO CHOOSE, their lessez faire attitude pissed me off. What about the choice to breathe non-toxic air? At the time I fantasized about writing a book called FREE TO BREATHE to rebuff their extreme ideological “free” market foolishness.

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