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Air Conditioner bring advantages with social costs

There is a saying in Rhone area of Provence that is the Mistral blows for more than three days you can commit murder with impunity. The law may not agree but there is something about the strong dry wind that can push people to the edge of madness. Days on end of extreme, unrelenting heat can have the same effect. 


Is air-conditioning really a human right as two lawsuits in Texas contend? The Texas cases concern inmates who died in prison during the heat wave of 2012.While most of them were found to have exacerbating conditions like obesity or heart-disease, the fact remains that thousands of people die every year from heat-related causes.


But is that enough to justify the ubiquitous use of air-conditioning? In the Air Condition Quandry, the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente argues that “Like many former luxuries, air conditioning is increasingly regarded as a necessity of life”. She cites India with its frequently sweltering temperatures where an air conditioner has become an essential dowry item. Many of her other arguments are quite convincing including improved attendance and better grades in air-conditioned schools.


The reverse argument as put forward by Stan Cox, author of Losing Our Cool, is that air-conditioning is a luxury the world cannot afford because of the huge environmental price attached to it. Arguably the greenhouse gases pumped into the air by millions of air-conditioning units is contributing to global warming, intensifying the heat the units are trying to block out. At the same time, moving from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned office via an air-conditioned car makes living in a warming world tolerable for those who can afford it. Air-conditioning becomes, in effect a technological shortcut which disconnects our capitalist-industrial societies from the destructive trends of climate change. If you barely register the 40 C plus temperatures outside it is easy to deny that the earth is in fact getting warmer.


Air-conditioning units are becoming more and more efficient, some can be run from solar panels, and new technology is making them increasingly friendly to the environment.


Arguing that air-conditioning is a human right is a bit extreme, as is getting rid of it altogether. The solution lies – as solutions usually do – somewhere in the middle. Cooling centers such as many North American cities offer, provide a sensible way for the man or woman in the street to cope with extended periods of extreme heat. The time honoured custom of closing windows and curtains or shutters during the day and opening them at night can keep houses bearably cool. Public buildings, schools and offices benefit from air-conditioning in terms of protecting people and equipment from overheating, thereby increasing productivity.


But for goodness sake, be aware of the way our climate is trending and find a sensible compromise between the outside temperature and a comfortable interior. One should not need to wear a cardigan in a lecture theatre, nor should one shiver on a ferry in tropical waters.


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