I’m not sure if there has ever been an invention as great as the air conditioner.

Well, I guess the wheel was pretty big too. But let’s face it, the summers are brutal (especially for those of us below the Mason-Dixon line) — and if it weren’t for the AC, we would be glistening all day long (that’s the genteel way of saying “sweating like a hog”).

The miracle that is air conditioning would be a godsend in places like Africa, Brazil and India, but as prosperity rises in those places, professors at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business are concerned that a surge in AC usage in those places could mean a stress on the environment, energy prices and infrastructure.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explores the relationship between climate, income growth and the use of air conditioning. The scientists analyzed 27,000 households in Mexico and showed that in the warmer climates, higher incomes equated to a larger use of air conditioning. The model predicts that as the income keeps rising, air conditioning will be everywhere in those warmer regions in a few decades. That translates to an increase in energy usage by 81 percent, although technology could lower that estimate.

The researchers determined that India, which has a population four times that of the United States, actually has a potential demand for cooling 12 times that of the U.S., due to its climate. But that nation is already facing brownouts and blackouts due to a higher energy demand than its infrastructure can provide.

“In the near future, over a billion people in Africa, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico and other low and middle income countries will be able to purchase their first air conditioner resulting in a massive increase in energy demand,” said one of the researchers, Paul Gertler.

“Now is the time for the public and private sectors to collaborate and develop infrastructures capable of accommodating rising demand, as well build air conditioners that are more energy efficient and more affordable for poorer populations.”

“In China alone, sales of air conditioners have nearly doubled over the last five years,” added co-author Lucas Davis. “Meeting the increased demand for electricity in the future will be an enormous challenge requiring trillions of dollars of infrastructure investments and potentially resulting in billions of tons of increased carbon dioxide emissions.”

I sure hope they figure out a solution because everyone deserves to cool down a bit when the temperature tops 90.

Everyone loves the cool breeze of AC, but scientists have some serious concerns about its use
Author placeholder image About the author:
Lilee Williams is a freelance journalist and scientific study junkie based in Georgia. Email her at
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