With the steady rise in temperature in every corner of our planet, the use of air conditioners is on the rise too. Air conditioners have gradually become a part of our lives.
Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew once noted that the air conditioner, or AC, is a groundbreaking discovery of modern science as it increased productivity of the workers by keeping the working room’s temperature in check. The AC, along with many other factors, had a vital role in Singapore’s rapid development.
Despite all the positivity of this electronic appliance, it also has an adverse effect on our climate. An AC requires electricity, which, in turn, requires fuel. Burning of fuel releases carbon dioxide into the air. Likewise, the cooling agent used in an AC releases carbon dioxide into the air which contributes to global warming.
That is why environmentalists term the AC as one of the major actors of global warming and advocate against its use. The bitter truth is, within the next ten years, as many air-conditioners will be used around the world as were used in around a century since the appliance was invented in 1902. So, in the foreseeable future, there is to be no let up in the use of ACs. On the contrary, it will increase and so will the global warming.
What can be done? Will our mother planet perish due to global warming? No, there is a way out. According to statistics, a new technology of refrigerant replacing existing pollutant ones can decrease up to 90 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air by 2050. Making the AC more energy efficient can decrease 90 billion more tonnes of carbon dioxide. At present, 40 billion tonnes of carbon is released in the air every year.
Hydro-fluorocarbon, a refrigerant used in AC, is a thousand times more harmful for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
In a recently published article in The Economist, the pollution caused by ACs has been compared to other pollution. The article says, a total of 66 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be saved if half the world’s population stops eating meat. Replanting two-thirds of tropical forests which underwent deforestation can save another 61 billion tonnes. Then, 2.3 billion tonnes more would be saved if the use of bicycle increase one-third. On the other hand, changes in AC technology alone can reduce 180 billion tonnes of carbon emission!
But, can we curb the use of air conditioning in this context? No, rather taking measures such as increasing renewable energy use to more forestation should be our target. We can improve the technology to make air conditioners more energy-efficient. Using environment friendly refrigerant, making design of house and office with natural ventilation so that need to use air conditioners decrease, can also be solutions.
In 1983, when I was taking a one-year course on economy-philosophy in the International Marxist-Leninist Institute of Moscow, professor Svetlana once said the ecology of the planet would be extinct if global temperature increase or drop only by 5 degree Celsius. We did not comprehend the consequence then, but we can now.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 8 October this year said, the average temperature started to rise globally since the industrial revolution of 1860. The average global surface temperature was around 15 degrees Celsius at that point of time, which has seen 1.2 degree Celsius increase by now.
Climate scientists earlier said that the average surface temperature should not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius in 2050 in comparison with 1860. But the scientists have recently suggested that containing temperature rise to within 1.5 Celsius is a safer limit for the world. Will we be able to do that? The only answer is, we must do that for sake of our existence.
It is difficult. But, if we follow climate-safety measures, curb burning fuels, increase use of environment friendly renewable energy; we may save our planet from extinction. Moreover, fuel-coal reserves will have to be left in the ground to prevent the climate change. We cannot afford more extraction of our fuel-coal reserves.
Yet, there is no guarantee that those measures would prevent the damage fully. For, we have already contaminated the earth’s surface with so much chlorofluorocarbon that we will have to suffer for decades to come. But, if we can take preventative measures, we may reduce the risk of our own extinction.
Today, the number one task of all the countries, of all the people, should be curbing carbon emission. Nothing can be more important than that.
*Abdul Quaiyum is associate editor of Prothom Alo. This piece has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf.