As the climate gets hotter, worldwide demand for air conditioning is climbing fast and driving more greenhouse emissions as it goes. New research shows if this feedback loop continues for long enough, AC could start causing more deaths.
Thanks to the greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere, heat waves are expected to get more frequent and intense. Experts think they'll help triple the demand for air conditioning by 2050.
There are about 1.6 billion AC units worldwide right now, so this growth will be like turning on about 10 more every second for the next 30 years. It'll use about as much energy as the whole of the US, EU and Japan do today, and a good chunk of that will likely come from fossil fuels.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison modeled how those emissions might play out over a smaller area, specifically the eastern United States. They found by midcentury, the fine particles and ozone emissions from powering those new ACs could be the direct cause of 1,000 more deaths every year.
The good news — we can reduce potentially-fatal emissions by changing the energy source. Renewable power is an ideal long-term solution. And experts say in the meantime, we can still do a lot to bring down AC's energy demand.
The International Energy Agency has called for the creation of basic energy standards for AC efficiency. If every new unit met them between now and 2050, their fossil fuel footprint — and the air quality and mortality risk — could be cut in half.