Have you ever walked into a workplace, shopping mall, or movie theater in the heat of summer and find that you need to wear an extra layer, because the air conditioning is too cold? Researchers have calculated that air conditioning is responsible for 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released annually, or nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 30% of that number comes from energy expended to control temperature; another 30% from removing humidity; and the remainder from leakage of global-warming-causing refrigerants and emissions during manufacturing and transport of the A/C equipment. As the world heats up – and this summer of heat waves may be just the start of a “new normal” – the global demand for air-conditioning is expected to triple by the year 2050.
Implementing measures to ensure a sufficient, reliable, equitable, and clean supply of energy and climate-controlled spaces is critical, but this will require a comprehensive response by governments, corporations, and local and state decision-makers. According to the International Energy Agency, increasing energy efficiency of A/C can avoid 460 billion tons of emissions over the next 40 years and save around $3 trillion.
As individuals, what can we do?
1. Replacing systems older than 10 years with new, high-efficiency models will aid in reducing emissions. This will generate trash, though, so it’s important, if you go this route, to recycle your old system. In fact, throwing away an AC is illegal because of cooling refrigerants that are environmentally harmful if left to sit in a landfill. See the link in comments for US-based recycling facilities.
2. Install a smart thermostat, which can help you save on energy consumption by adjusting the temperature only when it knows you need it, or depending on the changing weather outside. Ever go on vacation and leave the A/C running? Don’t! This is a colossal waste of energy.
3. Avoid making your house an icebox. Turn on your A/C sparingly. Depending on where you live, if you’re able to, open the windows instead, especially at night when temperatures are cooler. Open windows on the shoulder seasons, too. Every year, Ricardo and I see how long we can go until turning on the AC – until it’s absolutely necessary.
4. Weatherproof your home to keep cool air inside. Check for leaks out your windows and doors and seal them up. This will help you save money as well.
5. Advocate for energy efficiency at local and federal levels. Petitions, phone calls, votes – they all do matter in the end, especially collectively.