“An Inalienable Right to Sit In AC”

(p. C4) “Let’s sit in AC.” An American friend of mine, recently living in Mumbai, was wildly amused to hear this said in that steamy megalopolis, as if retreating to the tantalizing cool of an air-conditioned room were an activity in itself.

It took me a moment to see what he found so funny. I had grown up with the deprivations of socialist India in the 1980s. I was hardwired to fetishize air-conditioning. It was not an adjunct to life, sewn seamlessly into our daily routines, as it is in the U.S., where 82.7 million homes have central AC. It was, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant would say, the “thing-in-itself,” and to sit “in” AC was something of a national pastime.

. . .

Our first AC was an unbranded gimcrack contraption, jerry-built by a local electrician, but—my god!—how we loved it.

. . .

India loves to assert the demands of belonging through pacts of mutual suffering, and to be in AC was almost to be a little less Indian, as if you had decamped for the West. Even now that the country is the world’s fastest growing market for air-conditioners—projected by the International Energy Agency to be the biggest by 2050—the first line of attack from your average troll is: “What do you know of the realities of India, sitting in AC?”

. . .

. . . this summer, as newspapers report the hottest temperatures ever recorded on Earth and Amazon blasts me with discounts on their best-selling ACs, I cannot help feeling that our turn has come at a bad time. If nothing is done to make air-conditioning more energy-efficient, India alone is projected to use 30 times more electricity in 2030 than it did in 2010. Globally, air conditioning is projected to account for 40% of the growth in energy consumption in buildings by 2050—the equivalent of all the electricity used today in the U.S. and Germany combined. It’s enough to send a chill down the spine of the most ardent of AC evangelists.

The irony of a world made hotter by our need to be cool strikes some as proof of our rapacity. To me, having grown up in the place where so much of the new demand is coming from, I see it as part of a necessary realignment. As the global south gets richer, it will act as a frontier and laboratory. My hope is that it will achieve a miraculous breakthrough in energy efficiency, even as it asserts an inalienable right to sit in AC.

For the full commentary, see:

Aatish Taseer. “My Love Affair With Air- Conditioning.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 15, 2023): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 14, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

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