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Debate: can we turn off the air conditioning this summer?

If Chinese citizens turned their cooling off three minutes early, carbon emissions could be radically reduced. Zhang Haidi, recalling the beauty of floral window boxes, says it’s a small sacrifice.

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The narrow streets of Bamberg, a charming old town in the German state of Bavaria, are hard to forget. I am particularly fond of the windows, many of which are decorated with window boxes of flowers displaying a profusion of colours. 

And then I think of Jinan, the eastern Chinese city where I lived for many years. The number of cars in Chinese cities has rocketed in recent years, with roads becoming ever more congested. The buildings alongside those roads have become taller and more numerous – and instead of window boxes full of flowers, the only decoration on the outside of Chinese buildings tends to be air-conditioning units.

As summer approaches, the news media carry reports of air-conditioning manufacturers’ sales promotions, with hundreds of new systems being sold in a single day, thousands in a single month. But there’s no mention of the ozone-depleting substances produced by some refrigerant gases, or how much power these appliances will consume and the associated emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). In summertime business meetings, the air conditioning often is on at full blast, leaving attendees shivering. Sometimes a window is even left open to let some cold air out.

Summer in Bamberg can also be scorching, but no homes have air conditioning, and very few shops or buses do either. I used to wonder how they survived the summer. A friend told me that even though the temperature can reach 42º Celsius (about 107º Fahrenheit), the locals have their ways of coping with the heat: take a walk by the river; sit under the trees; use an electric fan; have a cold drink – but do not install air conditioning. They know that air conditioning produces greenhouse gases and, to protect the environment, emission of those gases needs to be reduced.

I was impressed. To protect the environment, the people of Bamberg were willing to make a sacrifice. But how many people are able to put this into practice?

Humanity has always struggled with the weather. It is one of the processes that helped us evolve into strong and intelligent creatures. But our modern civilisation sees us rely more and more on the products of industry, and our resilience is decreasing. Some feel that a simple electric fan is not enough to keep them cool in summer and that they need air conditioning, even while they sleep. Some children have become part of an “air-conditioned generation”: they don’t get hot in summer or cold in winter, and are unable to cope with either wind or sun.

My friend in Bamberg said that the natural environment is essential for humanity’s continued survival. Improved quality of life depends on a good natural environment -- green hills and clear water, wildlife and flowers. Not only do these leave us happy and carefree, they also help to regulate the temperature.

China's Ministry of Science and Technology has published a handbook on ways the public can reduce energy use and emissions. One way is to turn off your air conditioning three minutes before you leave the house, rather than as you walk out the door. At a conservative estimate, one person doing this would save five kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a year and reduce CO2 emissions by 4.8 kilogrammes. If all the users of China's 150 million air-conditioning units did the same, 750 million kWh of electricity could be saved annually, with CO2 emissions reduced by 720,000 tonnes.

Could you do without air conditioning in summer, or at least reduce its use? Would you rather see flower boxes or humming machines on the window sills of buildings?

Let us know on the forum what you think.





Zhang Haidi is a well-known writer and translator in China. Paralysed from the waist down since the age of five, she is self-taught and has become an influential figure in China.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The situations are different

China is too big, different places have different situations. Such as WuHan where I live,shutting down the AC equals killing people. If I'm in Harbin, I won't use AC, no doubt.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Lose weight to use less AC

Fat people need AC more because they are more sensitive to heat. On the other hand, skinny guys don't need it as much. Pedaling away the pounds is saving carbon; besides using less AC, it also saves food and cloth, even gas.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Sis Haidi, I don't use AC

I use fans to cool down. The AC in my home only runs several hours a year in those dang days when we can't open the window but need fresh and dry air.
Translated by Lijin Zeng

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The problem of air conditioning in the countryside

In many areas of the Chinese countryside people are not using air conditioning. For many in the countryside air conditioning is expensive and they cannot afford it. However along with China's fast development the time will come when they can afford it and they probably will use it. They haven't got many channels of information to enable them to understand about carbon emissions, climate change and scientific knowledge. Maybe we could look into this prior to their increase in wealth.

comment translated by Mike Thomson

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous





Many strange diseases result from using AC

Sweat more , and don't prevent human body from detoxificating in the natural way! There are so many examples nowadays that people get various kinds of strange diseases by using air-conditioning.

I worked not a long time in an office where I could feel the flow of wind from the air conditioning, as a result I have been suffering from hemoptysis and serious intestine and stomach problems for the whole year. In China, it is commonplace to see the vast and wasteful use of air conditioning, especially in the public places!

Translated by Lulu Jiang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




美国同样有这样的问题,商店宾馆和教学楼里天天开着冻死人的冷气,为什么不再高几度既节能又舒适,实在想不通。-- Lingularian

Air conditioning in China

Zhang Haidi is great. I hope the government can produce a promotional video message on this subject.

China has a vast territory and plenty of natural resources. Even in areas where it gets really hot, there is no problem turning off air-conditioning 10 minutes before you leave the house. I live in a dry part of California. It can get more than 40 Celsius in summer. But even so, it is fine to turn off AC a little before going out. And when you do so, the temperature gap between inside and outside will get smaller, which is good for health. There is a similar problem in the US. The air conditioning in shops, hotels and school buildings is freezing. I wonder why they don't raise the temperature several degrees Celsius, it would be more comfortable and save energy. -- Lingularian
Comment translated by Anton Lee

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Face up to the extreme weather

I agree with sis Haidi. We should strengthen our body and mind and face up directly to the hot summer and cold winter as they are part of the nature. If we keep an over-comfortable life style, our immune system will degenerate gradually, and we will be eliminated by nature sooner or later.
(Comment translated by Zhou Chen)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



本评论由Meg Cheng翻译

Good Advice Indeed

I quite agree with Ms. Zhang Haidi. Everybody should do his/her bit to protect the environment, like what Bamberg residents are always doing.
Actually it is more your mind that is afraid of the hot/cold weather than your body.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


我赞同 “直面严寒酷暑”; 我成家后, 太太怕冷怕热,我的承受力也大大降低了。 直要是我一个人在家,再热我都不开空调了。 保护环境,节省能源, 已经是个公民的良心、责任感、甚至道德问题了。 开空调是条不归路, 越开环境破坏越大, 气温越高;另一方面,我们承受力越低,越想开空调。 全民动员起来,打个阻击战。 必要时,国家应当通过立法限制空调温度,或再空调生产环节就立法控制住最低最高温度。 也用强权做点好事。-不成熟的想法,抛砖引玉。

Air conditioning

I agree with “face up to extreme weather”. After I started a family, my wife was very aware of when it was too cold or hot and my temperature tolerance levels dropped greatly. Its just when I am the only one in the house and it's hot that I won’t switch on the air conditioning. Protecting the environment and saving energy is already part of the general consciousness and sense of responsibility; even a moral issue. Using air conditioning is not a road we can go down. The more we use it the greater the damage to the environment and the temperature gets higher. Another point is the lower our temperature tolerance the more we want to switch on the air conditioning. Everyone should rise as one and fight a war of prevention. What is necessary is the country by legislative means ought to limit air conditioning temperatures or set minimum temperatures that have to be set during the production process. In this way it can use its power to do something for the good. Whilst my thinking is not complete I hope this throws up something for discussion.

Translated by Mike Thomson

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


在离开家之前三分钟把空调关掉完全不会产生什么改变,无论是对你的舒适程度还是气候变化都没有什么效果。在这种人类面临危机,我们需要更加根本彻底的解决方法的时候,在琐碎的小事情上执着也许才是最危险的。中国和世界其他地方要做出的牺牲,恰恰就是放弃这些象征性的解决行动,去实施更加根本的方法。针对空调问题应该使用“绿墙(植被覆盖墙)”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_walls) ,它可以产生微气候循环,以生产食用作物,吸收二氧化碳,并让冬天暖和起来。还有太阳能烟囱(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_chimney) ,它可以不断提供凉爽的气流,而且一经安装,就不在消耗能量。平屋顶应当安装隔离层并种粮食,倾斜的屋顶应当安装隔离层来为日常用电和供暖提供能量。有了足够的隔离层设备,我们就不再需要在夏天开空调或者在冬天取暖了。

--James Greyson

该评论由Zheng Shen翻译

Forget this trivial non-sacrifice - try being really radical

Turning off air conditioning 3 minutes before going out will make no difference to anything; neither comfort levels nor climate change. Perhaps the most dangerous thing we can do at a time when humanity is on the brink and radical solutions are needed is to focus on trivia. The sacrifice that's needed, in China and everywhere else, is to give up token 'solutions' and to do really radical stuff.

For the air conditioning problem please use 'green walls' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_walls) which create cool micro-climates that also produce food, suck up CO2 and keep you warmer in winter. Also look at solar chimneys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_chimney) which provide flows of cooling air with no energy used once installed. Flat roofs should have insulation then food cropping; sloped roofs should have insulation then solar capture for electricity or heating. With enough insulation you shouldn't need cooling in summer nor heating in winter.

For ideas on getting radical with the whole economy please see http://www.blindspot.org.uk. This work is supported by the NATO Science Programme and the UN.
James Greyson