Air conditioning causes surge in deadly pollution

As summer temperatures continue to rise, the increased use of air conditioning to cool buildings could take its toll on human health, a new study has warned.

Up to a thousand additional deaths are caused annually in the Eastern United States due to the increased use of air conditioning to cool buildings.

Buildings are responsible for more than 60 per cent of power demand in the Eastern United States, with air conditioning a significant component of that electrical demand.

Now, a study has revealed how much air conditioning’s dependence on power derived from fossil fuels is degrading air quality.

“We’re trading problems,” explained senior author Jonathan Patz from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in a statement. “Heat waves are increasing and increasing in intensity. We will have more cooling demand requiring more electricity.

“But if our nation continues to rely on coal-fired power plants for some of our electricity, each time we turn on the air conditioning we’ll be fouling the air, causing more sickness and even deaths.”

The research team’s analysis combined projections from five different models to forecast increased summer energy use in a warmer world and how that would affect power consumption from fossil fuels, air quality and, consequently, human health a few decades into the future.

According to the findings, an additional 13,000 human deaths are forecast to be caused annually by higher summer levels of fine particulate matter and 3,000 caused by ozone in the Eastern US by mid-century. About 1,000 of these deaths would be attributable to increased air conditioning powered by fossil fuel.

“Climate change is here and we’re going to need to adapt,” added lead author David Abel. “The answer is clean energy. That is something we can control that will help both climate change and future air pollution. If we change nothing, both are going to get worse.”

Photo credit: Aaron Yoo/ CC BY-ND 2.0

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