losingourcool

An Attempted Defense of Air-Conditioning

In A/C news on June 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm

You now can read, all in one place, the most comprehensive set of arguments in favor of air-conditioning yet put forth. Dr. Arthur Diamond of the University of Nebraska at Omaha has placed online the text of a paper entitled “Keeping Our Cool: In Defense of Air Conditioning,” which he presented in April to a meeting of the Association of Private Enterprise Education in Nassau, Bahamas. (This morning, I debated the pros and cons of A/C with Dr. Diamond on Joy Cardin’s Wisconsin Public Radio program. Here is the link to the audio.)

Acknowledging in his paper that critics’ chief objection to air-conditioning is its contribution to greenhouse emissions, Diamond purports to put that issue to rest in a quick eight lines of text and ten footnotes. The notes pointed to sources, many familiar, who disagree with the broad global scientific consensus that human-caused climate change poses a grave threat. Diamond writes,

“First, some phenomena often attributed to global warming may be due to periodic and hard-to-predict natural variations. Second, global warming creates opportunities in addition to problems, e.g., it would reduce the costs of shipping over, communicating in, and retrieving oil [!] and minerals from the Arctic, and would increase agriculture and animal husbandry in places like Britain and Greenland. Third, other problems exceed in severity any problems caused by global warming [referenced to three articles by Bjørn Lomborg]. Fourth and finally, in a system of entrepreneurial capitalism, creative inventors will find ways to reduce global warming [suspending giant mirrors in space, lauching light-absorbing chemicals into the upper atmosphere], and innovative entrepreneurs will find ways to adapt to it.” [e.g., dredging up silt in Bangladesh to block rising seawaters or using spongey material for constructing sidewalks in New York]

Having thus briskly dealt with air-conditioning’s central contradiction, Diamond goes on to outline the benefits of air-conditioning. His main argument here is that people should be “free to choose” to use technologies that they like, and that air-conditioning is something that everyone likes, or at least should like. To defend the idea that control of body temperature is important to civlization, he cites the ability of Cro-Magnon humans to make animal-skin clothes that allowed them to survive freezing European winters — a discussion that might be relevant if he were defending artificial heating, not cooling. He goes on to note that excessive heat can be dangerous to vulnerable populations, that it harms health and productivity, and that it promotes crime and aggression. For a discussion of all of those and other pro-A/C arguments, you can read my book Losing Our Cool.

In our conversation, Dr. Diamond referred to the recent New York Times article on how Chicago plans to adapt to global warming. As I noted previously, the plan includes installing air-conditioning in all 750 of the city’s public schools. That can be expected to generate about a ton and a half of additional carbon dioxide per cooled classroom, to help ensure that the next generation of students will be even more dependent on A/C!

 

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  1. Are you sure that article wasn’t from the Onion?

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