Curbing America’s ‘addiction’ to air conditioning

Modern America is afflicted with an “addiction to air conditioning,” says Gail Brager, UC Berkeley architecture professor and associate director of the Center for the Built Envornment. And that dependence, she adds, has consequences for our health and comfort and for climate change.

Brager talked about the trend toward more air conditioning in an interview on The Takeaway with John Hockenberry, the public radio show co-produced by WNYC Radio and Public Radio International.

Gail Brager

Gail Brager

A Berkeley study cited in the show found that people in buildings kept below 73 degrees Fahrenheit suffered from more headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating than people in slightly warmer buildings. Raising the temperature in federal buildings just two degrees in the summer would save the government $1.87 million each year, according to a General Services Administration study mentioned in the program. But still, more and more buildings are being cooled — and cooled more than ever.

“Air conditioning, she says, is like heroin,” Hockenberry says in introducing Brager. “It takes more and more to give you that original feeling of comfort.”

The Center for the Built Environment works to improve the environmental quality and energy efficiency of buildings by providing research on building technologies and design and operation techniques. Researchers are finding ways to apply task-lighting principles to create personal micro climates through technologies such as desktop fans, according to the College of Environmental Design.

Brager teaches courses in design for sustainability, natural cooling and ventilation and green workplaces.

Listen to the full interview with Gail Brager on The Takeaway.

In a related piece of research, two Berkeley-Haas professors recently examined the high costs involved as rising incomes around the world allow air conditioning to become the norm. See “The Cost of Staying Cool When Incomes Heat Up.”