Air conditioning; One of the most important inventions to help mankind overcome these hot summer months. Whether you live near the equator or are trying to relive some of those clear autumn months in the northeastern United States, almost anyone who has ever experienced this can appreciate the wonder of air conditioning. But does this luxurious lifestyle come at a cost?
A new publication in the diary Medical Library of the Public Science Library (PLOS) forecasts that in the eastern United States alone, 1,000 additional deaths annually are due to increased air pollution caused by the increased use of fossil fuels to cool buildings.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madisoncombined projections from five different models to predict increased summer energy consumption in a warmer world and determine how this would affect fossil fuel electricity consumption, air quality and human health over the next few decades.
“We have determined that air pollution will get worse, ”said David Abel, lead author of the study and PhD student at UW-Madison. “There are consequences for adapting to future climate change.”
While air conditioning systems save lives in severe hot weather and heat waves, the increasing use of air conditioning systems as a result of climate change depends on the generation of energy from fossil fuels. ““We deal with problems,” says Jonathan Patz, lead author on the study and UW Madison professor of environmental studies and population health sciences. “Heat waves are increasing all the time. We will have more cooling needs and more electricity. But if our nation continues to rely on coal-fired power plants for some of our electricity, every time we turn on the air conditioning we will pollute the air, causing more disease and even death. “
Buildings are the largest energy sinks in the US, as they are responsible for over 60 percent of the electricity demand in the eastern US – this is the focus of the study. The air conditioning is an essential part of this electricity requirement.
The authors forecast an additional 13,000 human deaths each year as a result of high levels of particulate matter in the summer, as well as 3,000 deaths from ozone in the eastern United States by 2050. They predict that most deaths will be due to natural processes such as atmospheric chemistry and natural emissions from rising temperatures. However, around 1,000 of these deaths would be due to increased air conditioning using fossil fuels. “Climate change is here and we have to adapt, ”says Abel. “But air conditioning and the way we use energy will provide feedback that will increase air pollution as temperatures keep getting warmer.”
These results are further evidence of the need to switch to sustainable energy sources such as sun and wind. It also requires the need for more energy efficient air conditioners – which could help save you money on your electricity bills if the fossil fuel deaths aren’t enough to motivate you. “The answer is clean energy, ”says Abel. “We can control that to help both climate change and future air pollution. If we don’t change, both will get worse. “
By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Employed author
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