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How the Dream of Air Conditioning Turned Into the Dark Future of Climate Change

This summer, air conditioning was a necessity for billions of people

In 2023, Jeep rolled out a new edition of its popular four-wheel-drive SUV. For the first time since the company introduced the car in 1986, air conditioning wasn’t an option, it was a must. This appears to be the end of an era: "The last car in the U.S. without standard air conditioning," read the headline of an article in the automotive press, "finally gives up the fight against refrigerant."

This summer, all across the torrid globe, air conditioning was a necessity for billions of people, though less than a third of households have it. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, it offered defense against not just the heat but also the eerie orange smoke from Canadian wildfires exacerbated by climate change. In Phoenix, where the temperature rose above 110 degrees for weeks on end, temporary cooling centers were a lifesaver for homeless people, though hundreds of heat-related deaths were confirmed or suspected throughout the metropolitan area. In Europe, where air conditioning is evolving from an eccentric, American-style indulgence to a standard amenity, AC offered a critical defense against a heat wave so powerful and persistent that the Europeans gave the high-pressure system causing it a name, “Cerberus,” after the mythological three-headed hellhound who guards the gates of Hades.

As temperature records were broken across the planet this summer, you could sense something shift in our relationship to air conditioning. Billions of people in the Global South and other hot zones still live without household air conditioning. And the cost of remedying that is staggering. But it isn’t just the financial challenge of manufacturing and distributing more cooling systems. The environmental costs are terrifying, too.

Please select this link to read the complete article from The Washington Post.

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