Climate change & our beloved ACs

Often when we think of climate change, we imagine the ice caps melting and the planet getting a little hotter every year. But the phenomenon of climate change isn’t just limited to that. It brings a host of repercussions with it, some of them seemingly apocalyptic.

One such feature of climate change is extreme temperatures and weather. This May, Delhi recorded the highest temperature of 49 degrees since we began recording temperatures.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Assam with a friend for work related reasons. Away from the scorching heat of Delhi, at 23 degrees, Assam felt like a pleasant vacation. After roaming in the pleasant weather of Assam for 3 days, I reluctantly caught the flight back to Delhi. After relaxing for 3 hours in the cool air of the plane’s AC, I landed at the Delhi airport. I immediately booked an Uber at the Airport Gate and sat in the AC for another half an hour waiting to reach home. I reached home and immediately got in my AC room and slept peacefully for several hours. I know. It is evident I, like many others, live in an AC bubble.

In the evening, my younger 12-year daughter proclaimed she was bored sitting at home and wanted to see the India Gate. I too thought it would be important for her to see what the beautiful area looked like before it was forever subjugated by Central Vista. Besides, it was 6 PM. The heat ought to have died down and the weather should be relatively pleasant. So, we took out the car, switched on the AC and left for the India Gate. We reached, parked the car and for the first time since Assam, I stepped into the actual weather of Delhi. Immediately, a thick blistering wave hit my cool face. I was shocked at how hellishly hot it was. We began walking towards India Gate and the kids got busy enjoying themselves. But I just couldn’t get comfortable. The air seemed too thick for me to be able to breathe. I checked the temperature on my phone, it was 42 degrees at 6:30 PM! I tolerated the trip for an hour and a half until I started to feel sick. We left soon and I was back in my beloved AC in the car and then at home. At night, I caught fever and cough and remained terribly sick for 3 days.

The cruel irony shouldn’t be lost on us. Our actions cause climate change which leads to such extreme temperatures. As a response to that, we develop technologies like AC to keep ourselves cool, which in turn cause further rise in the climate’s temperature!

The privileged of our society live in constant AC bubbles from our cars to our homes to our planes to our hotels, etc. The stark contrast, however, in the temperatures of our AC decorated homes and the outside weather might be affecting our health in previously unthought ways. When we step out of our 20 degree rooms to the 40 degrees weather outside, the body just might have a tad bit trouble in adjusting.

We often focus on mitigating the effects of climate change by taking large policy level national and international measures intended to reverse or at least stop the damage that has been done. But despite our best efforts to fight climate change, we can’t deny that it will be a while before we start seeing the desired changes. Until then, we have to live with the damage that has already been done. And that raises the issue of adaptability. While waiting for mitigation, we must adapt. With the kind of heat waves the Indian subcontinent is seeing every summer, it is undeniable that people will have to find ways to keep themselves cool. At present, about 12 percent of Indian households have air-conditioning, which is projected to increase to 69 per cent by 2040. ACs are almost a necessary evil here to stay, at least for a while. Hence, it calls upon our self-interest to ensure that we use these technologies in a way that do not end up causing us more harm than good. Keeping the AC at 26 degrees and switching it off for a while before stepping outside to let the body adjust gradually might be the kind of first baby steps we need to take to ensure a wise adaptability.

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