One of the weird arguments for guns by the US gun lobby is to distribute more guns so the innocent can protect themselves. This argument for air conditioning has similar elements. Air conditioning saves lives when populations are exposed to extreme heat events although the proliferation of such technology, will increase the number of extreme heat events by enormously increasing electricity usage particularly in developing countries where carbon-based fuels are likely to be used. These adaptations provide temporary relief to extreme climate change impacts but increase the frequency of such impacts. Adaptations increase the mitigation task. Scary and plausible stuff given the massive move to air conditioning in countries like China and India.
Abstract: Adaptation is the only strategy that is guaranteed to be part of the world’s climate strategy. Using the most comprehensive set of data files ever compiled on mortality and its determinants over the course of the 20th century, this paper makes two primary discoveries. First, we find that the mortality effect of an extremely hot day declined by about 80% between 1900-1959 and 1960-2004. As a consequence, days with temperatures exceeding 90°F were responsible for about 600 premature fatalities annually in the 1960-2004 period, compared to the approximately 3,600 premature fatalities that would have occurred if the temperature-mortality relationship from before 1960 still prevailed. Second, the adoption of residential air conditioning (AC) explains essentially the entire decline in the temperature-mortality relationship. In contrast, increased access to electricity and health care seem not to affect mortality on extremely hot days. Residential AC appears to be both the most promising technology to help poor countries mitigate the temperature related mortality impacts of climate change and, because fossil fuels are the least expensive source of energy, a technology whose proliferation will speed up the rate of climate change.