Saturday, December 18, 2010

Air conditioning India is a bigger issue than global warming

Heat stress is 20 times more likely to kill an Indian than a citizen of the US. This is due to the availability of stress-reducing (not to mention comfort-inducing) technologies such as air-conditioning.

In considering potential approaches to (the likelihood of ) global warming, what should someone concerned with the fate of poor Indians be asking? Create conditions where air-conditioning is widely available, or crimp power availability in the belief that you are preventing heat from getting worse than it is.

A look at this draft paper shows that fatal heat stress begins at ambient temperatures as low as 32 degrees C. Most of India experiences these temperatures for at least 6 months a year. From this perspective, one needs to examine two alternative scenarios:

Scenario ONE
We refuse to be party to climate change talks, and purposively make power availability a national agenda. Air-conditioning, vaccine refrigeration and food preservation become ubiquitous, and save millions of lives a year. In the process, the over 100 million children who (don't) study without electricity in their homes also get an opportunity to do so. As a result, we possibly contribute to global warming, which possibly leads to our need to adapt to changes in the temperature of the earth 90 years down the line.

Scenario TWO
We send ministerial parties and scores of tax-paid hangers-on to deliberations in the world's exotic conference locations. We sign documents agreeing to decelerate energy use; then, we all spend more tax-payers' money on policing each others' contribution to this grand altruistic cause of slowing global warming. The globe, meanwhile, cools or heats depending on cosmic radiation, solar activity and perhaps man-made carbon emissions. And, while we are being 'responsible' global citizens, Indians still continue to die of heat stress at a rate that is 20 times as high as Americans, children's vaccinations don't work because the cold chain snapped, and fruit and vegetable rots while (the same unvaccinated) children suffer from malnutrition.

Tough choices!

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