Elisabeth Rosenthal, an environmental reporter who has blamed about every problem under the sun on global warming, called on China and India to turn off their air conditioners to save the planet in the Sunday Review – 'Oh, to Be Warm In Summer's Heat.'
Rosenthal's personal temperature preferences (she complains of shivering in air-conditoning crazy Hong Kong) are apparently to be locked in as global policy to fight greenhouse gases.
Why are airports, shops, offices and homes in the United States and elsewhere chilled to sweater-weather temperatures in summer when the temperature outside rises? 'Everyone asks the question, but no one has a good answer,' said Fergus Nicol, a cooling expert and professor emeritus of architecture at London Metropolitan University. 'I think it's because air-conditioners are supposed to produce cool, so it has become an expectation.' Maybe, he said, there's also a bit of 'conspicuous consumption.'
Many energy experts recommend setting thermostats at 78 degrees in summer, to conserve energy and to combat rising greenhouse gas emissions. The exact energy savings depends on numerous factors, including the type of air-conditioning and the temperature outside. But turning up the programmable thermostat of a central air-conditioning system 1 degree can yield a 6 percent savings in energy used for cooling, according to the United States Energy Star program.
Still, few homes or buildings in the developed world seem to follow such impulses. Instead, they set summer thermostats in the low 70s or even the high 60s.
As more people in more countries come to rely on air-conditioning, the idea of thermal comfort may need to be rethought to curb the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. Ten years ago, when I lived in Beijing, air-conditioning was a rare luxury. On a visit there this month, I saw air-conditioners blasting even in rural restaurants. If hundreds of millions people in China and India expect to be cooled to our frigid standard of 71.6 degrees all the time, the environmental impact might be far less comfortable.