Everyone in Indonesia Will Want U.S. Style Air-Conditioning Soon

The Washington Post reports that 87% of American homes have air conditioning, and as every European knows, they don't just have it, they use it, baby, to create nipple-shattering indoor Arctic coldscapes (see how accurate stereotypes are?):

Overall, it's safe to say that Europe thinks America's love of air-conditioning is actually quite daft. Europeans have wondered about this particular U.S. addiction for a while now: Back in 1992, Cambridge University Prof. Gwyn Prins called America's love of air-conditioning the country's "most pervasive and least-noticed epidemic," according to the Economist. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it's getting worse: American demand for air-conditioning has only  increased over the past decades.

The U.S. has been the world's leader in air-conditioning ever since, and it's not a leadership Americans should necessarily be proud of. According to Stan Cox, a researcher who has spent years studying indoor climate controlling, the United States consumes more energy for air conditioning than any other country. In many parts of the world, a lack in economic development might be to blame for a widespread absence of air-conditioning at the moment. However, that doesn't explain why even most Europeans ridicule Americans for their love of cooling and lack of heat tolerance.

Of course, Northern Europe is still colder than most regions within the United States and some countries, such as Italy or Spain, have recently seen an increase in air-conditioning. "The U.S. is somewhat unusual in being a wealthy nation much of whose population lives in very warm, humid regions," Cox told The Washington Post in an e-mail. However, the differences in average temperatures are unlikely to be the only reason for Europeans'  reluctance to buy cooling systems. It's also about cultural differences.

"The bottom line is that America's a big, rich, hot country," Cox told The Post. "But if the second, fourth, and fifth most populous nations — India, Indonesia, and Brazil, all hot and humid — were to use as much energy per capita for air-conditioning as does the U.S., it would require 100 percent of those countries' electricity supplies, plus all of the electricity generated by Mexico, the U.K., Italy, and the entire continent of Africa," he added.

That's not at all an unlikely scenario: In 2007, only 2 percent of Indian households had air-conditioning, but those numbers have skyrocketed since.  "The rise of a large affluent urban class is pushing use up," Cox explained.

"I have estimated that in metropolitan Mumbai alone, the large population and hot climate combine to create a potential energy demand for cooling that is about a quarter of the current demand of the entire United States," Sivak concluded in a paper published by the American Scientist.

"If everyone were to adopt the U.S.'s air-conditioning lifestyle, energy use could rise tenfold by 2050," Cox added, referring to the 87-percent ratio of households with air-conditioning in the United States. Given that most of the world's booming cities are  in tropical places, and that none of them have so far deliberately adopted the European approach to air-conditioning, such calculations should raise justified concerns.

Nope, Brazilians, Indonesians and Indians are definitely not going to adopt a 'European' approach to air-conditioning, because those countries don't have European climates. Anybody who lives in a humid climate falls in love with air-conditioning the minute they experience it, and never go back. So we'd better get crackin' on much more efficient air-conditioners yesterday. Some Indian zillionaire should sponsor a contest: $10 million to the first team that develops an 80% more efficient air conditioner. The Future of Humanity™ could well at stake.

4 thoughts on “Everyone in Indonesia Will Want U.S. Style Air-Conditioning Soon

  1. Interesting, though there are many devils in the details. The climate of Europe does make a big difference, and I think the cultural norms arise from that. There are only a couple of weeks per year where northern European countries might want/need AC, so it is easy to scoff at it. There might be better numbers for the use of AC — even though 87% of homes might have it, that does not mean it is in use year-round. Yes, in the South and Southwest it might be used 75% of the year, but not in the north.

    That all said, it would be interesting to see how AC impacts various indices of productivity in different countries. For example, in Indonesia, school ends at 10am or 12pm at latest, so you are not likely going to see children as internationally competitive like in countries like Japan with long school days. Same with workers — productivity and concentration dip when indoor temperatures rise above 25 deg C. In much of Indonesia it does not every get below that, even in the rainy season at night!

    The idea to have competitions to improve AC would be a great idea as it could make a big difference in developing countries in hot areas, and reducing the energy use of the USA.

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  2. It’s well-established that productivity plummets when temps rise above 26-27 Celsius. The expansion of air-conditioning in the South of the US in the 1950s and 1960s led to one of the largest increases in worker productivity ever recorded in history, and made a significant contribution to making the US the world’s richest country. So expanding access to air-conditioning could be a major development tool, not that anyone in the development community would ever dare say this…

    http://www.jstor.org/stable/2208474?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

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  3. Yes, I have been noticing the German aversion to using air conditioning. This is true for buses on hot days, when the bus has windows that cannot be opened, and the driver still does not turn on the air conditioning. No one protests or even sighs. They just sit and sweat. Not my favorite part of German culture.

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    1. The fact that no-one protests or sighs means they have little to no problem with it. If I were you, I’d just suck it up and deal with it.

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