Does the use of air conditioning affect our air quality?
The use of air conditioning systems can bring great benefits, especially in summer and in times of a rapidly warming climate. However, researchers have now found that if global warming continues at the current pace, it will result in more and more deaths. The air conditioners are also to blame.
In their current study, the University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists found that global warming and the resulting heat waves have led to an increase in the number of people who have died from heat waves by more than 2,000 percent in the past ten years alone. The use of air conditioning systems that are operated with unclean energy will increase this number even further. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "PLOS Medicine".
The intensity of heat waves will increase
If climate change continues to accelerate at its current pace, the intensity of heat waves could increase sharply worldwide, the researchers warn. One way to tackle this problem is to install more air conditioners. But according to study author Professor Jonathan Patz from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this means exchanging one problem for another.
Using air conditioners can worsen air quality
Heat waves are increasing in intensity worldwide. The need for cooling will also increase and people will need more electricity. If countries continue to rely on coal-fired power plants for part of their electricity needs, switching on an air conditioner will further pollute the air each time, which will lead to more illnesses and even deaths, says Professor Patz.
Adaptation to climate change has serious consequences
The scientists estimate that the increase in air pollution from fossil fuels, some of which power air conditioning systems, will cause up to 1,000 additional deaths in the eastern United States alone. The results suggest that air pollution will get much worse in the future, explains study author David Abel from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Adapting to future climate change has ramifications. These consequences must be taken into account urgently. Buildings consume the most energy in the United States. They are responsible for about 60 percent of the electricity needs in the densely populated eastern region of the country. Air conditioning is responsible for a significant part of the demand for electricity, the researchers explain.
How much impact does the use of air conditioning have?
In their study, which simulated future energy consumption and pollution, the researchers found that between five and nine percent of deaths from future air pollution could be linked to air conditioning.
Ground-level ozone and particulate matter are particularly dangerous
It is believed that air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths each year, with toxic gases and particles causing various illnesses, from cardiovascular diseases to dementia. Ground-level ozone and particulate matter have proven to be particularly hazardous to health and are emitted by fossil power plants.
Air conditioning systems must be operated with clean energy
Although the researchers emphasized that air conditioning systems can save lives, these systems must be operated with clean energy from wind and solar energy if the harmful side effects are to be avoided. Climate change is there and we have to adapt, Abel explains. But air conditioning and the way energy is used will exacerbate air pollution as temperatures continue to rise. This vicious circle is made even worse by the emission of potent greenhouse gases, so-called fluorocarbons (HFCs) from air conditioning systems. Fluorocarbons store a thousand times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the scientists say. There have been studies in recent years that have indicated that global demand for air conditioning has increased. HFC emissions have also increased in the same way. (as)