Air Conditioning Heats Your World

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Our cool addiction is making it hotter. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports on a study by Dr Yukitaka Ohashi of Okayama University of Science and colleagues in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology reporting that air conditioners make it hotter outside and how they do it.

Their study compared the summer temperatures in downtown Tokyo on weekends versus weekdays. It showed air conditioners dump enough heat into the streets to raise the temperature at least 1 to 2ºC [1.8 to 3.6 degrees F]. In turn, heat blasting from the rear-ends of air conditioners is contributing to the “heat island” effect that makes cities hotter and their weather sometimes more severe.

Air conditioners remove not only ambient heat from buildings, but they expel heat from their use of electricity. In other words, coolers don’t just move heat from the inside to the outdoors, they also add new heat just by being machines that consume power. In fact, Tokyo sucks up about 1.6 gigawatts of electricity for every 2 degrees of warming on a hot summer day, the researchers says. That’s equivalent to the output of one-and-a-half nuclear power plants.

If we want to get serious about local warming as well as global warming can we agree to open the doors? I mean, does anyone keep their house or apartment as frigid as the average mini-mart, restaurant, or mall store? Can we imagine adding thermostat control to our list of consumer demands… we already (don’t we?) ask for sustainably-caught seafood and sustainably-harvested wood and forest products? Why not ask to open the doors and cool the world?

US-based urban heat researcher Dr Stuart Gaffin of the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University in New York suspects the Japanese researchers are right about the significant contribution of air conditioning to hotter cities. “Such heat is not fully appreciated in urban heat island discussions,” says Gaffin. The heat islands created by big cities in warm climates like Atlanta or Dallas – have been recognised as having noticeable and sometimes violent effects on stormy weather that crosses their path. Even non-urban areas downwind of cities have been known to get more violent thunder storms as a result of the supercharging of storms by city heat.

Either we get bitchy about it or Mother Nature will. And she’s queen bitch.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.