Only a decade ago, air conditioners were a luxury which not many could afford. But now it is frightening to see how dependent we are on it. From homes to offices, public transport to shopping malls, air conditioners surround us wherever we go. Its growing demand in the past few years cannot be ignored, especially in the developing countries of India, China, Pakistan and others. This ever-rising demand of air conditioners is not only surprising but rather alarming. We are entrapped in a vicious cycle where the more air conditioning we use the more it leads to environmental changes and global warming which in turn accelerates the demand for air conditioners.
When it comes to the harmful effects of air conditioning on the environment and our health, there are quite a few.
- Air conditioners need electricity to work and electricity is being generated by the burning of fossil fuels. The situation is indeed one to worry about since fossil fuels are some of the few non renewable sources of energy. With the use of air conditioners on a subsequent rise, the day is not far when fossil fuel will have ceased to exist.
- The refrigerants used in air conditioners contain CFCS or chlorofluorocarbons. Studies have shown that Chlorofluorocarbons are the major reason for the depletion of the ozone layer in the atmosphere. Since this shocking discovery, chlorofluorocarbons have been replaced by hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and later by hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs). Although not as harmful as CFCs, HFCs do have a role to play in global warming.
- The environment is not the only thing that is getting harmed by air conditioners. Air conditioners pose a serious threat to our health as well. Common ailments that arise from air conditioning are breathing problems, drying of skin, allergic reactions and throat infections to name a few. An abrupt rise or fall in temperature can distress our respiratory system.
- Above all, the burning of fossil fuels and HFCs are contributing to the rising levels of pollution in the atmosphere, which in turn can cause serious diseases like cancer.
We are not completely unaware of the fatal effects that air conditioners have on us and the environment but we choose to remain oblivious for the sake of comfort and luxury. A few moments of respite is all that takes to make us forget the years of suffering that lies ahead of us if we do not put an end to air conditioning. It is high time that we start thinking about the environment and our future generations.
Fortunately, all is not lost. Researchers, engineers, architects and environmentalists have been able to come up with some pretty good alternatives to air conditioners. Some may be a bit costly to install but the benefits are huge. Here is a list of environment-friendly substitutes of air conditioners that we can incorporate in our daily lives with a little initiative.
- Passive cooling is probably the best and most ground-breaking alternative to air conditioning. What is surprising is that this system has been in use for many centuries and it is now making a comeback. A passive house contains different pathways which transfers heat from inside of the house to the outside. It also uses strategic shading to keep the house cool even in summer. Passive cooling has different aspects to it like night flushing and evaporative cooling. Evaporative cooling works well in dry climates where moisture is added to the air to make it cool. On the other hand night flushing is a procedure that transfers the cool night air to the interior of the house and at the same time flushes out the accumulated heat throughout the day outside.
- Solar powered air conditioner is a revolutionary discovery that can substitute a normal air conditioner. Solar panels fitted in the ac use the energy of the sun. Hence burning of fossil fuels is no longer required. Energy is conserved and harmful effects on the environment are diminished to some extent. But it is a fairly new phenomenon and it will take a while to reach maximum energy efficacy.
- Another highly effective innovation is the geothermal heat pumps that can be used for both heating and cooling of water. For cooling, it transfers water from a house to the underground where it is cooled by the soil and the water is pumped back to the house.
- A brilliant and innovative idea to beat the heat without using an air conditioner is to use a table top fan in different practical ways. You can place a bowl of ice in front of the fan for cooling effect or create a tunnel strategy by placing them on opposite windows to let the cool air come in and the warm air go out.
- Small steps can go a long way in cooling your house. Try to switch off the television or computers when not in use. Keep the windows closed when it is too hot outside. Even if you use air conditioners, don’t use it for too long. Always keep the temperature of the air conditioner from 20 to 25 degree Celsius.
These are just a few of the many alternatives that can be used instead of air conditioners. But before we can implement any of them what we need is consciousness and an urge to save and protect our environment. So next time you switch on your air conditioner, think about what it is doing to the planet.