Study Finds Disparities In Escaping Extreme Heat

Image: Athena via Pexels

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

As the earth’s temperature skyrockets, so will the demand to beat the heat with air conditioning. While access to cooler air is yet another example of climate inequity, a new study published in Nature found that people in lower-income countries may also have to pay much more than those in wealthy countries.


Why this Matters: The study shows that climate change will widen the vast inequities that already exist between the rich and the poor. And this isn’t just a matter of sweating it out; heat can be deadly, and pressure on power grids from high demand for cooling can lead to blackouts. To protect the world from increasingly extreme heat, action must be taken to close the cooling gap, and find less energy-intensive ways to keep cool.


The paper argues for “the critical role of economic development in shaping how energy consumption patterns respond to climate change” and concludes “that much of the world will remain too poor in the coming decades to spend substantially on energy-intensive cooling technologies.” 


Cooling Down the Developing World

The research found that much of the developing world lacks air conditioning. For example, while 90% of American homes have some air conditioning, only 5% of homes in India have air conditioning. Similarly, the demand for electricity in the US is likely to rise by just 2.7% by 2099, but Indonesia may see an increase of almost 100%; India of 145%; and Nigeria of nearly 2,100%.


Some governments are already taking action. In September, the Biden Administration released a plan to combat extreme heat that includes supplying cooling infrastructure and assistance to underserved households and communities. But these policies have yet to reach the Global South, and international funding for climate mitigation in poor nations is still lacking.


The study’s authors hope the data will help policymakers address inequity in their climate policy. Lead author Solomon Hsiang, co-director of the Climate Impact Lab, said, in a statement: “Our hope is that the best available data-driven science will be used to design climate change policies in the US and internationally. Our children and grandchildren cannot afford for us to make these decisions based on intuition or gut feelings.”

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