The Deluded World of Air Conditioning Revisited

When at the Aftertaste symposium at the New School, Cameron Tonkinwise, Chair of Design Thinking and Sustainability discussed how air conditioning kills. Not necessarily because it falls out of buildings onto people's heads, (although that does happen) but because they are the result of lazy design. He calls them weeds, view destroying and inefficient. "The window air conditioner allows architects to be lazy. We don't have to think about making a building work, because you can just buy a box."

TreeHugger has said much the same thing over the years; we round up some of our favourite posts on the subject and look at some solutions including our holy grail, the solar powered air conditioner.

Picking up on Tonkinwise's point, we note that people used to have quite a good time without air conditioning, often taking off their jackets, even at parties.

It wasn't always pleasant on the hottest days in New York, even out on those fire escapes.

But even when air conditioning first came into play, it was inherently social, in places where people gathered.


Edward Burtynky, China

Now, we all hide in our houses and apartments, each with their air conditioner banging away.

The Deluded World of Air Conditioning

William Saletan nailed it best in an article in Slate:

"Air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors. To do this, it uses energy, which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We're cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that's still habitable."

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Air Conditioning and Urbanism


We talk often on Treehugger about the new urbanism, the benefits of density, of an active street life, of living close to work. We have talked about the need to reduce our use of electricity. We should consider also the insidious effect of central air- how it enables the development of parts of the country previously uninhabitable and which would still be but for the constant cooling, and how it is destroying the street culture of areas already established. How we are sacrificing neighbourhood and community by forcing our immediate personal climate to adapt to us instead of us adapting to it.

Barbara Flanagan said much the same thing in ID magazine:

"what happens when humans treat themselves like dairy products chilled behind glass?

Civilization declines.

The proof is in Barcelona. Spend five glorious weeks in its barely mitigated heat, as I did last summer, then return home and refrigerate yourself in the relentless mono-temperature now anesthetizing the continent. Conclusion?

A/C is the killing frost sure to wilt the last fragile shoots of American culture."

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America's Air Conditioned Nightmare



Alternet discusses its impact on the settlement of the United States and the change in its political makeup and voting patterns. Few inventions, perhaps even just the automobile, have has such impact on the way we live. Here is a link again to the first part.. Read also the second part: "Luxuries like comfort air-conditioning are affordable only in a make-believe world with unlimited fossil fuel reserves and a method for pumping carbon dioxide into outer space (or unlimited tolerance for nuclear disaster and storage for radioactive wastes). In a greenhouse future, we will need every kilowatt we can squeeze out of wind machines, solar arrays, and biomass just to fulfil essential needs. None will be left over for cooling down the Astrodome."

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Next: 10 Low Tech Ways of Keeping Cool

Tags: Air Conditioning | Green Building

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