In the U.S., buildings are responsible for more than 60% of power demand in the Eastern region of the nation, according to the study, which involved assessing computer models using historical and future climate data.
Here's how senior author Jonathan Patz explained how exactly cooling the warm air with compromising fossil fuels can be damaging in the University of Wisconsin, Madison news release:
“Heat waves are increasing and increasing in intensity. We will have more cooling demand requiring more electricity. But if our nation continues to rely on coal-fired power plants for some of our electricity, each time we turn on the air conditioning we’ll be fouling the air, causing more sickness and even deaths.”
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Burning fossil fuels, according to scientists, leads to increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases polluting and warming the air.
While heating is typically powered by natural gas, air conditioners are electrical and the power to run them is usually generated at coal-fired power plants.
"You have to burn a lot of coal to keep me cool," Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher T.J. Blasing, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science.
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And though carbon emissions attributed to air conditioning are not as significant as the influence of emissions and atmospheric chemistry, "on a regional basis the effects are expected to be greater, and overall the net result, though small, will be more carbon emissions," according to Live Science.
Patz, lead author David Abel and their team believe there’s a dire need for more energy-efficient air-conditioning equipment and more sustainable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power.
“That is something we can control that will help both climate change and future air pollution. If we change nothing, both are going to get worse,” Abel said.
Read the full study at journals.plos.org.
This story was originally published on July 10, 2018.