air conditioning is changing the world, but it leaves us more defenseless against the heat.
A few weeks ago, when the thermometers still marked 30 degrees in the province of Barcelona, my neighbors kept saying that “Oh my god, what heat”, “I can’t stand this hot flash” and even that of “I hope winter will come soon“For someone like me, whose idea of a cool night is Écija at three o’clock in the afternoon, that seemed to me like the script of a bad traditional comedy.
But it is that today, still far from 40, there are many people who say they sleep with the air conditioning on all night. And “the first big heat wave of the summer” has not yet arrived. This makes a lot of people wonder how pre-conditioned era humans did it, but What I wonder is if the air conditioner is getting us badly accustomed.
Give me an air conditioner and I’ll move the world
Walt Disney knows well that I have nothing against the cold. Not against technology, in general. Relax, this is still Engadget. But the truth is that in addition to the energy and environmental challenges that they entail, the experts assure that the conditioned air has social and cultural effects. Let’s start with the first: while only the US was hooked on air conditioning, the figures were worrying, but manageable (in 2016 5% of all energy expenditure and more than 29,000 million dollars).
What is happening is that (understandably) the world is enthusiastically joining the idea of living cool. Urban China went from having air conditioning in 8% of homes in 1995 to 70% in 2004. It is a general trend: sales are growing at rates of 10-15% per year in countries such as India, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil. . It is estimated that the world will install 700 million air conditioners in the next 15 years and 1.6 billion before 2050.
Although in a world invaded by heat waves, all help is little. There are many associated environmental problems such as hydrofluorocarbons or those related to air quality. But maybe the problem is the vicious circle that causes massive use of room cooling. The A / C cools the interior at the cost of heating the exterior, so more and more is needed. The case of Phoenix (Arizona) is well documented: the machines can raise the night temperature by up to two degrees and that encourages residents to use the air conditioning even more.
A cultural problem?
But this also has an unforeseen consequence: in a certain way, and while global temperatures continue to rise, the indiscriminate use of air conditioning is spreading a poorly resilient, unsustainable and unhealthy ‘thermal education’. Alter our thermal comfort thresholds, to put it bluntly.
Things like metabolic rate, air temperature, and relative humidity have a fundamental impact on thermal comfort. But insofar as that comfort is partly psychological our learning history and a lot of individual, sociological and cultural factors they also play a key role.
It is in these latter factors that researchers see the most dangers. Gwyn Prins, a professor at Cambridge University and the LSE, has even said that America’s love of air conditioning is the country’s “most pervasive and unnoticed epidemic”. From the world I would say seeing the data.
Towards a thermal education
The question that experts are asking is whether air conditioning is leaving us more exposed and defenseless And in that, Europe is the perfect laboratory to study how air-conditioned living practices can erode well-established thermal practices. Until not long ago, Europe was a ‘reluctant’ place for conditioning, but it seems that, little by little and despite the crisis, it is something that is beginning to change.
The field of “thermal education” is a very recent research area that began to develop with the idea of providing simple and accessible tools to communities to reduce their dependence on air conditioning. But in recent years, more and more experts are interested in it and more and more experiments are underway. It is still too early to have solid conclusions, but the idea sounds good: there is life beyond the air conditioner.