Guest “Goods and services aren’t rights” by David Middleton
HEALTH & FITNESS | MAY 16, 2022 2:29 PM
Why Air Conditioning Should Be a Universal Human Right
This century is only going to get hotter. Expanded access to cooling has become essential.
BY TANNER GARRITY
It’s hot out there.
Pick a country, pick a headline, pick a statistic, it’s all telling the same story — the planet is warming at an alarming rate. In the last few days alone, South East Asia recorded temperatures of 122°F, as regions of Pakistan and India labored through a punishing early-season heat wave; the bodies of assumed old mob hits washed up in Nevada’s historically-dry Lake Mead; and sweltering highs rarely seen this side of June have arrived in France and Spain.
Considering that rampant energy consumption on the part of humans is responsible for this crisis, it might seem counterintuitive that leading researchers are now calling for expanded access to air conditioning. In a recent article for Scientific American, four authors argue that AC ought to be considered a fundamental “human right,” and will be prerequisite for climate justice in the years ahead. They write:
“As the world heats up, billions of people need air-conditioning. This 120-year-old technology used to be considered a luxury, but in the age of climate change, it is a necessity for human survival.”
How can the planet possibly accommodate billions of more AC units, though? (Just 12% of people living in the world’s hottest regions currently have air conditioning, while 90% of Americans use the technology.)
Having lived in Texas since 1981, I fully appreciate the value of air conditioning.
Heat is the primary weather-related cause of death in the United States. Increasing heat and humidity, at least partially related to anthropogenic climate change, suggest that a long-term increase in heat-related mortality could occur. We calculated the annual excess mortality on days when apparent temperatures–an index that combines air temperature and humidity–exceeded a threshold value for 28 major metropolitan areas in the United States from 1964 through 1998. Heat-related mortality rates declined significantly over time in 19 of the 28 cities. For the 28-city average, there were 41.0 +/- 4.8 (mean +/- SE) excess heat-related deaths per year (per standard million) in the 1960s and 1970s, 17.3 +/- 2.7 in the 1980s, and 10.5 +/- 2.0 in the 1990s. In the 1960s and 1970s, almost all study cities exhibited mortality significantly above normal on days with high apparent temperatures. During the 1980s, many cities, particularly those in the typically hot and humid southern United States, experienced no excess mortality. In the 1990s, this effect spread northward across interior cities. This systematic desensitization of the metropolitan populace to high heat and humidity over time can be attributed to a suite of technologic, infrastructural, and biophysical adaptations, including increased availability of air conditioning.Davis, Knappenberger, Michaels, and Novicoff, 2003
There’s no doubt that air conditioning has saved millions of human lives.
A study published in 2016 found that Americans’ risk of death on a very hot day has fallen by 80 percent since the 1939-1959 period, with most of the gain coming after 1960 —an improvement researchers attributed almost entirely to the spread of home air conditioning. That’s a number that would translate into 20,000 more deaths each year in the US if we maintained midcentury rates of heat-related deaths today. Researchers also found that this protective effect was particularly strong among vulnerable populations, including Black Americans and those ages 65 and up. This pattern holds true globally. A major 2021 research report in the Lancet estimated that, globally, access to air conditioning averted 195,000 heat-related deaths among people ages 65 and older in 2019.
In simplest terms, then, millions of people are alive today who would be dead if not for air conditioning.Foreign Policy
However, calling it a “human right,” makes me think of a scene in the 1985 classic, Police Academy 2…
You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to a court appointed attorney. You have the right to sing the blues. You have the right to cable TV… that’s very important. You have the right to sublet. You have the right to paint the walls… no loud colors.Steve Guttenberg as Carey Mahoney in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment
Goods and services aren’t rights
While I believe that energy poverty is a serious problem and that increasing access to affordable, reliable energy should be a societal priority, air conditioning can no more be a right than cable TV can. No person has a right to the goods and services provided by other individuals. If air conditioning was a right, the people who manufacture and sell air conditioners would become indentured servants.
Access to affordable, reliable energy isn’t a right either, but it is the answer
Aug 23, 2019
Carbon Pricing Is Not a Fix for Climate Change
By: Scott Tinker
There is much talk today about carbon pricing to reduce CO2 emissions and address climate change. Unlike many environmental pollutants that have a local or regional impact, carbon dioxide (CO2) is global — there is only one atmosphere. If actions taken to reduce atmospheric emissions in one region result in increased emissions elsewhere, then the one atmosphere suffers.
Some form of carbon pricing — carbon tax, carbon trading, carbon credits — is favored by many politicians, NGOs, academics and even some in industry. But the reality is that a price on carbon will not be imposed by developing and emerging economies because it makes their energy more expensive, and they are too busy trying to build their economies and lift themselves from poverty.
In the developed world, carbon pricing increases the cost of manufacturing and products, which in turn drives manufacturing to developing nations where it is more affordable because of lower labor costs and less stringent environmental regulations and emissions standards. Global emissions rise in the one atmosphere.
Said differently, the good intentions of carbon pricing have an unintended negative impact on climate change. This is not hypothetical. It is happening.
If carbon pricing won’t work, what will? Energy science tells us how to actually lower CO2 emissions into the one atmosphere in the time frame needed. Unfortunately, those who are the most passionate about addressing climate change seem to not like the answers from the energy experts.
So what options does energy science suggest will have a major impact on climate change?
Natural gas and nuclear replacing coal for power generation in major developing nations such as India, China and Vietnam would have a major impact. Carbon capture, utilization and storage; direct carbon capture from the atmosphere; and perhaps nature-based solutions such as increasing the size of forests would help, especially in fossil fuel producing regions such as the U.S., Russia, China and the Middle East.
These scientifically sound and economically underpinned energy solutions present a problem. Many are not favored by people who are the most concerned about climate change. Thus, politicians seeking climate votes continue to passionately promote programs and policies that won’t actually address climate change.
But we have a remarkable opportunity. The right can acknowledge the need to tackle climate change. The left can acknowledge the energy science needed to accomplish real global emissions reductions into the one atmosphere. And developing and emerging nations can continue to climb out of energy poverty.
Unfortunately, this appears to be far from happening. Climate politics seems to trump energy solutions in Europe and the U.S., and the developing world continues to burn coal.
Scott Tinker is the Allday Endowed Chair of Subsurface Geology and director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin.UT News
It is undeniable that “those who are the most passionate about addressing climate change seem to not like the answers” and “politicians seeking climate votes continue to passionately promote programs and policies that won’t actually address climate change.” While the need to address climate change is highly debatable, the need to fight energy poverty is not.
It truly is a Bizarro World… Those who consider climate change to be an existential threat are least likely to support natural gas, nuclear power and CCS/CCUS. Instead they support Green New Deals that would destroy our economy, have no affect at all on the weather while worsening energy poverty.
Davis, R. E. , Knappenberger, P. C. , Michaels, P. J. , & Novicoff, W. M. (2003). Changing heat‐related mortality in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111(14), 1712–1718. 10.1289/ehp.6336 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]