You can have my AC when you take it from my cold, dead hands.
Temperatures in New York City have pushed toward 100 degrees this week, and air-conditioners strained the power grid (thanks in part to stores with their doors open). Meanwhile the demand for coolant gases, especially in rapidly developing countries like India, threatens to accelerate global warming.
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?
Of course when the NYT’s asks an absurd question like that, you get absurd answers like this:
Air-Condition A Luxury the World Can’t Afford
The economist Thorstein Veblen once quipped that “invention is the mother of necessity.” That was before the age of air-conditioning, but no technology better illustrates Veblen’s point. Having developed efficient cooling, we’ve designed homes, businesses and transportation systems that are completely dependent on it, while the resulting greenhouse emissions create the need for even more air-conditioning. […]
We must break this feedback loop, but what does one say to someone living in one of the tropical nations where much of the increase in cooling demand is expected? Surely not that Americans are addicted to air-conditioning and can’t give it up, but we expect Southeast Asians to get by without air-conditioners because they’re used to the heat.
No, there’s little we can say until we end our own society’s dependence on lavish cooling. Doing that would be a good start, but addressing energy-hungry technologies one at a time won’t achieve the greenhouse-gas cuts of as much as 80 percent that science says are necessary to prevent catastrophic warming. Only a per-person ceiling on overall emissions can accomplish that.
A global greenhouse ration would push us into distinguishing between absolute necessities like food or water and manufactured necessities like a houseful of refrigerated air. And making such decisions could help us recover some of the resilience our own culture has lost in the age of air-conditioning.