Air-conditioning in Mumbai, India -- Photo: Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times
[UPDATE 22 June -- There's a follow-up debate today at the NY Times -- "Is it a good goal for everyone in the world to have access to air-conditioning — like clean water or the Internet? Or is it an unsustainable luxury, which air-conditioned societies should be giving up or rationing?" The focus on the developed world is good. It really drives home how our lifestyles make us complicit.]
The likely response to a warming world is more use of air conditioning wherever it can be afforded. But, according to this NY Times report by Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew W. Lehren, the new non-ozone-damaging gases are by weight thousands of times more potent as CO2 and "up to 27 percent of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050."
This is not only an urban Asian problem. Here in Brazil I am watching air conditioning follow the cars and rural electrification (Luz para Todos) into the Amazon forest where people want it for the same reasons as Asians, Australians, Europeans and North Americans do -- to deal with the heat.
Suely Carvalho, the Brazilian-born chief of the United Nations Development Program’s Montreal Protocol and Chemicals Unit, said: “The developing countries are already struggling to phase out, and now you tell them, ‘Don’t do what we did.’ You can see why they’re upset.”
Here is the NY Times report:
Relief in Every Window, but Global Worry Too
In the ramshackle apartment blocks and sooty concrete homes that line the dusty roads of urban India, there is a new status symbol on proud display. An air-conditioner has become a sign of middle-class status in developing nations, a must-have dowry item.It is cheaper than a car, and arguably more life-changing in steamy regions, where cooling can make it easier for a child to study or a worker to sleep.But as air-conditioners sprout from windows and storefronts across the world, scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed about the impact of the gases on which they run. All are potent agents of global warming.Air-conditioning sales are growing 20 percent a year in China and India, as middle classes grow, units become more affordable and temperatures rise with climate change. The potential cooling demands of upwardly mobile Mumbai, India, alone have been estimated to be a quarter of those of the United States.Air-conditioning gases are regulated primarily though a 1987 treaty called the Montreal Protocol, created to protect the ozone layer. It has reduced damage to that vital shield, which blocks cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, by mandating the use of progressively more benign gases. The oldest CFC coolants, which are highly damaging to the ozone layer, have been largely eliminated from use; and the newest ones, used widely in industrialized nations, have little or no effect on it.But these gases have an impact the ozone treaty largely ignores. Pound for pound, they contribute to global warming thousands of times more than does carbon dioxide, the standard greenhouse gas.The leading scientists in the field have just calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the newest gases currently employed in air-conditioners, up to 27 percent of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050.So the therapy to cure one global environmental disaster is now seeding another. “There is precious little time to do something, to act,” said Stephen O. Andersen, the co-chairman of the treaty’s technical and economic advisory panel.The numbers are all moving in the wrong direction.
Continue at the NY Times.