Pope Francis has outlined his views on a wide array of subjects since being elected head of the Catholic Church in 2013.
In his June 18 Environmental Encyclical, however, the Pope delivered his opinions on a topic he hadn’t yet touched on during his papacy: the environment, and the dire impact that air conditioning has on it.
According to Forbes, the encyclical, Laudato Si’, delivered right at the cusp of summer, singled out air conditioning as the biggest example of our society’s “harmful” consumption. While air conditioning can be a way for millions of people to stay comfortable in the summer months, these systems, which essentially run on potent greenhouse gases and dirty energy, ultimately harm everyone, the Pope explained.
“People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more,” he wrote in his 40,500-word encyclical. “A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behavior, which at times appears self-destructive.”
While air conditioning poses major risks to the environment, there’s no denying its economic and health benefits. When developing countries adopt air conditioning, death rates fall and workplace productivity improves significantly.
Whether these advantages are enough to negate air conditioning’s significant contributions to global climate change is another story. The majority of air conditioners run on electricity that is generated through the burning of fossil fuels. In addition, many older units still run on refrigerants that can be thousands of times more harmful in terms of trapping heat within the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
The key to keeping Earth’s human population cool while protecting the planet itself comes in the form of more energy-efficient air conditioners that run on clean, environmentally friendly refrigerants. However, this technology is still largely being developed, with universal adoption a far-off concept.
Are the Pope’s thoughts on modern-day air conditioners enough to make the $71 billion HVAC industry shake in its boots — or are they simply more hollow statements from the head of an aging institution whose relevance has long passed? It will be up to the world’s citizens to determine the answer.