Today’s humans probably need air-conditioning if they want to thrive and prosper. Yet if all those new city dwellers use air-conditioning the way Americans do, life could be one stuttering series of massive blackouts [like the recent one in India], accompanied by disastrous planet-warming emissions.
We can’t live with air-conditioning, but we can’t live without it.
Projections of air-conditioning use are daunting. In 2007, only 11 percent of households in Brazil and 2 percent in India had air-conditioning, compared with 87 percent in the United States, which has a more temperate climate, said Michael Sivak, a research professor in energy at the University of Michigan. “There is huge latent demand,” Mr. Sivak said. “Current energy demand does not yet reflect what will happen when these countries have more money and more people can afford air-conditioning.” He has estimated that, based on its climate and the size of the population, the cooling needs of Mumbai alone could be about a quarter of those of the entire United States, which he calls “one scary statistic.”What we have to hope is that sounding the alarm will stimulate new (and potentially very lucrative) innovations to cool workplaces and homes more efficiently. Otherwise, a lot of people will be losing their cool, and that's not cool.