Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Question of Temperature

We were in Melbourne (or at least nearby in Geelong) for some, but mercifully not all, of that city's run of forty-plus-degree post-Christmas days. If this is the future, you can let me off now, thanks. All thoughts were addressed towards finding the nearest available air-conditioned premises. And the media duly reported record levels of energy consumption in Melbourne on those days.

Aha, I said. Herein lies concrete proof, if such was needed, of my theory: a theory which is, essentially, a variation on the theory of the frog and the pot of water on the stove. (You know the one: put a frog in a pot of cold water and bring it to the boil and the frog will stay there until it dies; put a frog in a pot of hot water and it will jump straight out.) It goes something like this.

1. Consumption of fossil fuels is causing the planet to heat up. (This is, perhaps, the one aspect of my theory that is not capable of proof; but how much proof do you need beyond looking out the window? If we were to wait until this could be proved, it would be too late. Which is my fundamental point on climate change.)

2. As the planet heats up, more and more people, at least in the affluent West, are turning to domestic air-conditioning units in order to cushion themselves from hot days.

3. As more people install, and use, domestic air-conditioning units, consumption of fossil fuels, in order to run those units, increases.

4. As fossil fuel consumption accordingly increases, the planet continues to get warmer, and places like Melbourne experience more and more extremely hot days.

5. As the number of hot days increases, the number of people installing, and using, domestic air-conditioning units also increases, thereby leading to further increases in the consumption of fossil fuels, leading in turn to hotter weather, leading to more people succumbing to the lure of the air conditioner, which in its own turn ... well, you get the picture.

What I don't know is the extent to which domestic air conditioners are a contributor to global warming (as opposed to, say, the arrival of the motor car in large numbers in India and China), but if their use can be seen in a noticeable spike in the daily energy consumption of a large city like Melbourne they surely must be a significant contributor.

Far be it from me to call for any sort of a ban on domestic air conditioners. I don't like to ban things. (Public air conditioning I have no problem with; on its own, it should be able to be managed in a reasonably benign way, and if we didn't have such comforts in our own homes we would have to get out more, which wouldn't be a bad thing either. Car air conditioning, well, its use will presumably be self-regulated with further increases in petrol prices, which, by the way, I am happy to argue should be about four times what they are now, even in these expensive times.) But I think it's time we woke up to what we are doing, or to get out of an understandable state of denial (the consequences are too horrible to contemplate).

We might well be able to make ourselves more comfortable in our homes, but at some point we will all be feeling very uncomfortable indeed. We might be The People Who Air Conditioned Themselves To Death.

End of sermon.