We're creeping into the dog days of summer—a recent heat wave scorched much of the eastern United States while wildfires have devastated the west—and it's now official that the first six months of 2012 were the hottest ever recorded. New research indicates that climate change will make these heat waves even more likely. There's no doubt that we live in a warming world.
While China has outpaced the United States in overall energy consumption, our air conditioning footprint is mammoth—at half a billion metric tons of carbon annually, it's larger than the rest of the world combined. In fact, the amount of energy we use just for cooling is larger than the total energy use of the entire African continent. We really like to control our climate here in the United States. But as Stan Cox of the Guardian Environmental Network points out, soon the United States will no longer be the coolest of them all.
Cox trots out a parade of troubling statistics: While U.S. cooling-related energy consumption jumped 20 percent from 2005 to 2010, 50 million air conditioning units were sold in China in 2010 alone and these days 40 percent of all energy consumption in Mumbai is from air conditioning. And he points out the irony of glass housed Americans throwing stones east:
In thinking about global demand for cooling, two key questions emerge. Is it fair to expect people in Mumbai to go without air conditioning when so many in Miami use it freely? And if not, can the world find ways to adapt to warmer temperatures that are fair to all and do not depend on the unsupportable growth of air conditioning?
Here in Los Angeles, sudden demand for air conditioning can have immediate and dramatic impacts on air quality and a new project from the Asia Society tracks Beijing's air daily. Making this connection between air conditioning and climate change is key, especially since Cox estimates that by 2050, world energy consumption to keep cool will increase by a factor of ten.