Air conditioning has become standard for the vast majority of homes and businesses in recent years. In fact, roughly 5 percent of energy use in the United States is used to fuel air conditioning. To combat this impressive statistic, some celebrities who use their fame for the promotion of environmental or “green” issues either do without air conditioning or use newer technologies instead.
Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"), in a recent interview with Mother Nature Network, said that he and girlfriend Jennifer Westfelt ("Kissing Jessica Stein") were trying to decrease their impact on the planet. “We don’t use a lot of air conditioning. We open windows,” said Hamm. Hamm added that their bill for air conditioning was “getting smaller every day.”
Melora Harden ("The Office") said in an interview with Lifescript that she was looking into alternatives to air conditioning that are more eco-friendly.
Elton John, following suit after the Queen of England, has invested in geothermal cooling systems to break away from the A/C habit.
You may ask, “Why should I care if these people want to sweat it out?” While celebrities generally have more than enough money to luxuriate in perfectly cooled settings, some choose otherwise for the sake of the planet and their health, and many people find this inspiring.
While efforts to improve upon the safety of air conditioning have grown in recent years, there are still significant environmental and health-related issues related to its use.
For starters, global warming
There are very few of us who haven’t heard of global warming. Whether you believe it exists or not, it’s fair to assume that the annual release of 140 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from air conditioning alone is bound to have an impact. Air conditioning runs on electricity, and most electricity is generated by burning coal, which releases greenhouse gases and creates acid rain. Coal is also often harvested in less than ecologically sound ways. I have a vivid memory of seeing strip mines in upstate Pennsylvania as a child. Even at the age of 9, I realized how devastating strip mining was for the environment.
In addition to the pollutants created by the burning of coal for electricity, air conditioners, whether during manufacture or use, still emit chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs may take a long time to get to the stratosphere, but the end result is the thinning of our ozone layer. A thinner ozone layer leads to higher UVB levels, which in turn leads to more skin cancer, cataracts and impairments to our immune systems.
If you are getting rid of an air conditioner for whatever reason, be sure to check with your local authorities regarding how to properly dispose of the unit. Also, if your home or car air conditioner needs repairs, make sure to hire a technician who has been certified by the EPA. The EPA has programs regarding proper recovery of the refrigerant used in air conditioning.
Other health problems related to the use of air conditioning
Though it might seem like a great relief on a really hot day to immerse yourself in air conditioning, unfortunately, you may be damaging your health. Artificially changing the temperature in your environment is confusing to your body. Our bodies have evolved to synchronize to the temperatures of the season.
Plus, air conditioning has an irritating and drying effect on the eyes, nose and throat. Many people experience swollen sinuses, allergies, dry eyes, sore throats and other discomfort when they are in air-conditioned areas. Bacteria and mold can be easily and continuously dispersed by the recycled air, leading to lowered resistance to infections, as well as illnesses such as Legionnaires’ disease, asthma and allergies.
If you do use air conditioning, it is critical that you clean the filters at least once a month.
Simply put: Microorganisms that inevitably are contained in air conditioners have a direct and sometimes severe effect on your immune system and your ability to breathe.
Skipping A/C saves money
In a 2008 Time Magazine article, Lee Shipper of the University of California, Berkley estimated the cost of air conditioning usage to be 20 cents per kilowatt hour. He also estimated a savings of four percent for every degree you push up the thermostat.
You can lower your costs by using fans and ceiling fans, opening windows and creating cross-currents to cool your home. Also, use heat-producing appliances such as dryers during cooler times of the day and close your shades during the hottest part of the day.
An excellent alternative to air conditioning is becoming more affordable – geothermal cooling systems. I became familiar with geothermal systems when the board of a local library decided to go that route with a new building it was having constructed. Geothermal systems can either heat or cool and are powered by the heat stored in the earth. Geothermal systems aren’t new. The Romans used geothermal systems (albeit less sophisticated ones than today’s) to heat their homes thousands of years ago.
Currently, if you decide to buy a geothermal system, you can also apply for tax credits that make your investment even more economical.
So, you too can be like some of your favorite celebs and have a healthier life and environment by turning off the A/C.