To Combat Climate Change, Start With Your Air Conditioner


On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort
by Eric Dean Wilson

Eric Dean Wilson says at the beginning of “After Cooling” that he started his research without knowing “a tank of Freon from propane.” It’s a subtle chemistry joke, but a good one. But by the end of the first 20 pages, the reader will undoubtedly realize that the author is aware of everything there is to know about what we call air conditioning. After his ingenious opening argument that reducing machine-made cooling is the most pressing environmental task of our generation, Wilson walks us through the science of chemical coolants, both the chemistry and physics of these miracle molecules and the terrifying discovery. From the destruction they cause in the thin protective layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Touching upon the history of the first modern coolant—Freon—a compound in the chlorofluorocarbon or CFC family—developed by Wilson in the 1930s—is an intriguing tale of how our best efforts at landscaping can bring out the worst in us.

In a desperate attempt to save our ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol effectively ended the production of CFCs in 1987, forcing the temperature control industry to switch to less potent fluorocarbon compounds. Since then, while production The use of CFCs is prohibited, not prohibited. This has created a powerful underground market in the previously stacked Freon that appeals to small farmers and mechanics who don’t have the resources to power the cooling systems on their tractors or long haul trucks. Even small businesses with undercover teams have emerged to buy these CFCs to play the California carbon market. Wilson’s account of his cross-country journey to meet and talk to Freon’s buyers and sellers nicely exemplifies the book’s tragic premise—which I totally agree with—that the road to Climate Hell was and still is paved with good intentions.

For example, Wilson says that John Gorrie’s design for the first air conditioner in 1851 aimed to provide better air circulation in cramped apartments and crowded classrooms, but it didn’t work that way. The first complete refrigeration system was not implemented within the city, but was used – quite literally – to benefit the market: The first air-conditioned workers were traders on the 1902 New York Stock Exchange floor. Since then, most of us have come to accept that for most of the year, the temperature inside our offices, homes, cars, shopping malls and movie theaters will be dramatically cooler than outside.

Our ability to dramatically cool the spaces we live in has changed the way we travel, consume food, use medicine, design our architecture and much more. Ultimately, however, the chemical compounds used for this cooling cannot help leaching from coils and holding tanks as machines age and are discarded. Once released, they form persistent greenhouse gases – which means that cooling as a practice makes a huge contribution to global warming. A Wilson, with supreme irony, is our world before the adoption of corporate conditioning. cooler general.

Wilson’s “After Cooling” research was ambitious. “I needed to be closer to climate violence,” she writes in the beginning, and addresses several controversial themes. It describes how the history of the cooling of personal and professional spaces is intertwined with the history of racism and the institution of slavery. Before mechanical coolers were invented, enslaved children living in temperate climates were forced to ventilate the oppressors for long hours or move air between water containers to cool entire halls and palaces. Wilson writes with powerful simplicity: “One life was comforted at the expense of another. Today, he explains, the global socioeconomic gap between those who can effectively cool their environment and those who can’t is growing rapidly.

One issue that Wilson didn’t address and I wish I had: how changes in Western diet affect (or do not) affect our perceived need as much as air conditioning use. Admittedly, the measurable increase in average self-isolation over the past 50 years is a thorny topic, but it’s certainly relevant to any discussion of the ways we change our personal space.

“After Cooling” has the greatest impact when it asks us to reflect on the reasons why people want to change the temperature of their surroundings. Wilson suggests that once the occasional sweat was simply considered a way of life, we now see comfort as a prerequisite for work and play. But what does it really mean to be comfortable? Is it just the absence of discomfort or more? Is it a bodily experience or an emotional state? Wilson invites the reader for deep existential discussion by appealing to broad themes of culture and philosophy, an unusual and enjoyable feature for a book on climate change. It is particularly fascinating that Wilson examines the marketing impulse behind the phrase “air conditioning” rather than “air cooling” or something more tangible. Clearly, producing better weather “conditions”, better “conditions” for life, is the very definition of progress, right?

My main quibble with “After Cooling” is that the book occasionally seems to apologize for its existence. Wilson notes that racism, misogyny and poverty have recently been fiercely acknowledged in the media and are being covered on both large and small scales, comparing this to the fact that friends and colleagues always simply “wait for the issue to pass”. raises climate change. He also notes that people find discussions of refrigerant management less “challenging” and “oddly impersonal” compared to climate strategies involving (for example) electric vehicles or bioplastics. By contrast, I would argue that the quality of the information and storytelling found in “After Cooling” contradicts the author on these points.

Wilson dares to openly say that lasting climate solutions do not depend on new technologies or better products, but rather on our capacity to redefine what makes our lives meaningful. The first baby step can be as simple as trying the air conditioner on a hot July day, setting the room a few degrees higher than normal, and asking ourselves before bed if we’ve noticed.


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