Sweltering temperatures continue to sweep nearly every continent this summer, with millions of people experiencing temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Billions of people need air conditioning to combat the deadly heat, which raises the question: Should access to it be a human right?
One critique of supplying more air conditioning units is the environmental harm it would cause. Dr. Morgan Bazilian, director of the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines, has been searching for cooling technology that’s both efficient and sustainable.
“If you look at an issue where you’re going to want to increase the energy demand in developing countries, then we have to go back to the fundamentals of how we design energy systems and how we focus,” he says.
Bazilian says the technology already exists to provide more efficient AC units: Companies like Carrier have built units that are three times more energy efficient, so technology isn’t the obstacle, Bazilian says. Rather, it’s a matter of policy.
National and local governments are key to supplying more air conditioning units. The issue of cooling has caught the attention of top decision-makers and organizations like the United Nations. To ensure the solution is enforceable and robust, Bazilian wants it to happen at the national or international level.
In the U.S., landlords are already required to provide heat for tenants, but laws regarding AC access vary from state to state. Bazilian says efforts by the Biden administration to provide energy services to those in need are promising.
“I think you’re going to see a sort of strong movement under this administration to make sure that things like cooling become as mandatory as heating in some places,” he says.
Thomas Danielian produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jeannette Muhammad adapted it for the web.