Anyone who has experienced summer without air conditioning
knows how uncomfortable it can be, and many of us have probably heard stories
from our parents and grandparents about how difficult life was when few people
– if anyone – had the luxury of cooled air. However, according to a new study,
life before air conditioning became commonplace was also deadlier.
The Washington Post has
an interesting article
highlighting a new study conducted jointly by Tulane University, Carnegie
Mellon University, the National Bureau of Economic Research and MIT analyzed
U.S. heat-related deaths between 1900 and 2004, and found that after 1960
(before which air conditioning was not commonplace), there were on average 600
premature deaths each year on days in which temperatures rose above 90 degrees
– one-sixth as many as would have occurred under pre-1960 conditions. By 2004,
85 percent of American homes had air conditioning.
According to the Washington
“It’s all due to air conditioning,?? said MIT
environmental economics professor Michael Greenstone,
one of the paper’s co-authors, adding that factors including increased electrification and health-care access
did not affect heat-related mortality.
likelihood of a premature death on an extremely hot day between 1929 and 1959
was 2.5 percent, the academics
found, dropping to less than 0.5 percent after 1960. The paper, which is under review at an academic
journal, compared days on which temperatures exceeded
90 degrees Fahrenheit with days when they ranged between 60 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit.
The article goes on to discuss
that in developing countries, such as India, very few people have air conditioning
and as more people enter the middle class, they will be able to afford air
In the article, Indian Institute of Technology professor
Ambuj Sagar, states, “To me, if there is any policy relevance of this study, it
is that the developing countries, in their drive for a comfortable life (which
will also help adapt to hotter temperatures) are following the same pathway
that their industrialized-country counterparts because they don’t have any
other pathway available.??
As more continue to enjoy the benefits of air conditioning,
there will be continued focus on energy efficiency, which manufacturers of
portable room air conditioners have worked on diligently over the years. For
example, in 1990, the average room air conditioner consumed 862 KWH/Hr and by
2011 that had decreased to 644 KWH/Hr – over a 25 percent reduction! Additional
information on the increased efficiency of home appliances can be found in
in Energy Efficiency.