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Air Conditioner Is Bad for the Environment – But Is there a Choice?
Blog...Air Conditioner Is Bad for the Environment – But Is there a Choice?

Air Conditioner Is Bad for the Environment – But Is there a Choice?

Green News
picutre of modern air conditioner and settings
Air conditioner feels good for humans in the summer, but does it feel as nice for the planet? In this article, we’ll break down why air conditioning is an ecological disaster.
Green News
picutre of modern air conditioner and settings

Air conditioner has become a norm for the majority of us during scorching summers, and something many of us from western countries have grown accustomed to living with – but does air conditioner feel as good to the environment as it does to us?

In this article, we’ll break down why air conditioning is an ecological disaster: from how it uses extensive energy, drives up energy bills, and even creates emissions after an air conditioning unit has died.

What is air conditioning?

Air conditioning, more commonly referred to as AC, is a central system that is used to alter the temperature indoors for comfort purposes. Air conditioners are used to cool and dehumidify the air to allow for more comfortable living or work spaces. 

Air conditioning systems help to make a cooler environment with these components: 

Evaporator Coil: This part is inside an indoor unit of an air conditioner system, and is the component that has refrigerant fluid that evaporates in order to absorb heat from air indoors. This is the main part of “air conditioning” – as a failing evaporator coil would cease an air conditioner to be useless.

Compressor: This part of an air conditioning unit is outdoors and works to pressurize the refrigerant gas and move it to the condenser coil.

Condenser Coil: This part of an air conditioner is also located outside, as it is responsible for releasing heat back outside. Next time you walk by a store and feel an intense moment of hot air, you’ll know where it’s coming from – the condenser coil. 

Expansion Valve: Located between the evaporator and condenser coils, this part of an air conditioning unit works to control the amount of refrigerant, allowing for a consistent release of cool air indoors. 

Refrigerant: The refrigerant is the fluid that circulates through the system to absorb the heat from the air indoors. This is one of the most ecologically dangerous parts of air conditioning systems as a whole.

youtube screenshot

However, today’s air conditioners often do a lot more than just cool the air – they often offer settings for air filtration, which can actually be useful in the midst of wildfire smoke or poor air quality to prevent allergens and other consequences of bad air quality.

Air conditioning has become popular not only inside homes, schools, and offices – but everywhere: from cars, buses, metros, and shopping malls to ensure the comfort of the user from anywhere. However, it’s important to remember that while air conditioning is a momentary sigh of relief for us – it’s an ongoing nightmare for the planet.

air conditioner unit

How often is air conditioning used?

Now living in France as an American, it is a massive culture shock to me when I return to the U.S. and walk inside a grocery store in April – where I need to bring a sweater to wear inside the grocery store because of how high Americans tend to crank up the AC.

To better understand why air conditioning is so commonly used in certain parts of the world, it’s useful to have a quick history recap.

Air conditioning was first invented by Dr. John Gorrie back in the mid 1800s, with Willis Carrier officially designing the first electrical air conditioning unit in 1902 – bringing it to the public for their enjoyment as early as 1904.

Many of these first air conditioning units were installed in large buildings in Los Angeles and New York – which means Americans have been accustomed to air conditioners for well over one hundred years, now.

Countries like the U.S. are infamous for their excessive use of air conditioning – but what about the rest of the world?

Air conditioner use depends on several factors, such as:

  • Location: Southern states of the U.S., the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia often experience year-round high and humid temperatures, leading to daily use of air conditioning.
  • Environmental awareness of a country on how bad air conditioner is for the planet
  • Cultural factors, as some countries may be used to extreme temperatures
  • Technological factors, as some people may have access to smart air conditioners that self-regulate their temperature and turn off automatically
Ultimately, the use of an air conditioner is dependent on numerous factors such as weather conditions, societal influence, the infrastructure of a building, and personal choice.

As concern for climate change continues to grow, many are beginning to wonder if the comfort of using an air conditioner is worth the environmental impact it creates. 

picture of long air conditioning unit

Why is using your air conditioner bad for the environment?

There are multiple reasons why using an air conditioner is bad for the environment:

youtube screenshot

Why are air conditioning machines bad for fighting against climate change?

In addition to the excessive energy consumption and pollutants created by air conditioning, the units themselves are also bad for the environment.

First off, many manufacturers will make use of plastic in order to reduce production costs, and while this may benefit the company financially – the planet plays a price, as plastic in landfills contributes to excess greenhouse gas emissions.

Air conditioner units are difficult to throw away and recycle seeing as many companies manufacture them with plastic.

Air conditioning machines also often require the use of aluminum, copper, and other metals which can have an impact on marine life when not disposed of properly. 

Even modern air conditioners aren’t perfect, as ducts can collect bacteria that will be diffused into the air every time someone turns the unit on – which isn’t healthy to inhale.

Long story short, manufacturing and disposing of air conditioner units presents an entirely different (but equally harmful) problem for the planet.

What are some real-life examples of how air conditioning has negatively impacted the environment?

Air conditioning has not just been something designed for comfort, but has actually helped some people deal with the side effects of climate change – such as helping people purify indoor air in the midst of poor air quality following the Canadian wildfires.

However, air conditioning may have done the world more harm than good. 

For instance, air conditioners have exacerbated the current issue with the urban island heat effect – which refers to when cities have high amounts of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that hold onto heat. This results in these cities using more air conditioning to cool off, which raises energy costs, aggravates pollution, and even results in mortality.

youtube screenshot

Cities that experience the urban heat island effect include New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, and more – totaling to over 40 million Americans that suffer from this phenomenon. This shows that the use of air conditioners may no longer be a choice, but a necessity – meaning we may need to rethink the way we manufacture and design air conditioners in the future as scorching temperatures become the new normal.

👉 Cities like Santorini in Greece help to prevent the urban heat island effect as the majority of their buildings and residencies are painted white – which deflect heat.

view of santorini in oia

Air conditioning also puts an enormous strain on electrical infrastructure and power grids, both of which do not help the ongoing crisis of climate change.

What are some alternatives to using an air conditioner?

Air conditioning is only getting more popular as temperatures spike around the world, therefore – it’s more important than ever to find sustainable and energy efficient alternatives to air conditioning.

There are multiple solutions to cool our homes and buildings without harming the environment, such as with energy-efficient air conditioning technologies and ensuring that architectural design is intact for adequate insulation.

Think of when you go to the frozen section of the grocery store, and you didn’t bring any shopping bags. You now have to rush home to get the groceries you bought back into the freezer. However, if you brought an insulated grocery bag to the store instead – your groceries would stay frozen for longer. The same goes for our homes and buildings: the infrastructure needs to be built in a way that mitigates the need for excessive air conditioning.

refrigerant section at grocery store

However, there are still steps people can take to keep their homes cool during a heat wave without the need for air conditioning – such as investing in blackout curtains for your windows to prevent the light from coming in. You’d be surprised at how effective this is at maintaining the indoor temperature of your home.

Word of mouth could do a world of good with air conditioning, too. If people encouraged one another to set their thermostat at a higher temperature or simply to open windows for natural ventilation instead of turning on the AC – our dependency to it would decrease overtime. 

This is already being done in cities around the world where air conditioning isn’t implemented everywhere. For instance, some metro lines in Paris still run old trains that don’t have AC – so people often crack open the windows to ventilate the train.

Governments can get involved to prohibit the use of superfluous air conditioning, too. For instance, government bodies could implement regulations to improve energy efficiency and decrease the use of refrigerants used in common air conditioning systems – especially systems in large buildings such as schools and offices.

More extreme measures could be taken for air conditioning, too – such as trying to determine when peak demand to use air conditioning is and implementing energy rationing. This was done in the U.K. last winter to avoid using heating as an attempt to conserve energy. 

However, this tactic may not fare as well in the U.S. – seeing as of 2020 – a whopping 88% of Americans made use of air conditioning. Only 5% of homes in the U.K. use air conditioning, and the rest of mainland Europe is still conservative in their usage of air conditioning as opposed to Americans – with around 19% of Europeans reluctantly making use of air conditioning as a result of the deleterious heatwaves have ensued in recent summers.

Ultimately, the use of air conditioning is a real problem that needs to be addressed. There are numerous ideas to combat this issue that could be successful, but it is up to our governments, industries, and support of the general public to prevent the use of air conditioners from setting the world on fire.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about air conditioners and how it impacts the environment has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Keeping track of all the appliances in your business like air conditioners that contribute to emissions can be challenging, but don’t worry  – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help you comply with all of the upcoming regulations relevant to your company. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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