Commentary

Janis Gabbert | Meditation on Climate Change

Some sit quietly in silence. Some listen to the healing tones of the Native American flute. Some meditate to recordings of shorebirds or mountain streams. Eyes closed. Body still. A gentle upliftment to that beautiful place of soul-serenity from which to gather strength and inspiration for the day.

I sit in front of my meditation space — an altar on the desk in my guest bedroom. I reorganized my altar four days ago and it brings me instant peace. It fills me with hope. I come back to it several times a day.

But there is a small problem, actually a big problem, as it turns out. The temperature in Santa Clarita Valley is a high of 103 and a low of 74 and the heat advisory is from 10 a.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Saturday. These heat advisories have been happening sometimes weekly for months, years, even decades! My inner peace is challenged by the heat advisories that say to turn on the air conditioning and stay indoors.

Tatiana Schlossberg, in “Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have” (2019), explains that our local heat advisories have a history and a solution:

“‘It is likely the single most important step we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet and limit the warming for generations to come,’ John Kerry, then secretary of state, proclaimed at international climate negotiations in October 2016. (New York Times, Oct. 15, 2016.)

“He was talking about an international agreement reached in Kigali, Rwanda, to limit and eventually phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a chemical used in refrigeration and air conditioning, which is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas — able to trap thousands of times more heat for the same volume than carbon dioxide.

“According to the authors of ‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,’ a book that ranks 100 of the most effective solutions to end global warming, refrigerant management comes first; other research suggests that improving efficiency and phasing out HFCs from air conditioning and refrigeration could help us avoid as much as 1 degree Celsius of warming by 2100. Given that it’s going to be pretty hard to avoid 2 degrees Celsius of warming, this seems like it could be a big deal.

“But HFCs and refrigerant management are only part of the story.”

While the international community sought to phase out HFCs, there were some complicating factors during negotiations: the developed countries struggled to get the developing countries on board. India in particular wanted a more gradual phase-out. In the end, the developed nations agreed to freeze levels of production and consumption in 2018 and reduce them to about 15% of 2012 levels by 2036 and the developing nations agreed to similar but more gradual phase-outs.

The story doesn’t end there because of the way we have used and may continue to use air conditioning. Air conditioning, as you may have noticed from your electricity bill, uses a lot of electricity. Air conditioning our homes causes more than 100 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions every year.

Basically, after World War II, when residential air conditioning became more widely available, Americans started moving to the Sun Belt and the Deep South, both of which are hot. By the mid-1970s, these were the fastest growing parts of the country, mostly because Americans were moving there from somewhere else and bringing air conditioners with them. In 1950, 500,000 people lived on the 500-mile coast of the Gulf; now it’s home to more than 20 million people, nearly all of whom have air conditioning.

This air-conditioning-powered migration has been a significant advantage for the Republican Party: Air conditioning allowed older people to move to the South and the Sun Belt, and white Americans adopted air conditioning first, creating a northern climate in the south for themselves (at least indoors), and those demographics tend to vote Republican. And they did: In pretty much every presidential election since 1950, the Sun Belt and much of the South has gone red (not from the heat). Air conditioning has encouraged settlement in places where there perhaps shouldn’t be lots of people, and then caused them to use more and more air conditioning.

And it’s getting hotter. From 1951 to 1980 in the Northern Hemisphere one-third of summer temperatures were average, one-third were hotter than average, and one-third were cooler. Since then, it’s become even hotter. From 2005 to 2015, two-thirds of summer temperatures were hotter than average; 15% were so much hotter than average that scientists had to add a completely new category of “extremely hot.” And nights are warming faster than days. Higher nighttime temperatures can make heat waves more fatal, because the body does not really get a chance to cool down.

All that means we’ll be using our air conditioners more. It means more demand on the electrical grid, which can cause more blackouts. Perhaps you received the “important update” that I received just yesterday from Southern California Edison regarding “power shutoffs to help prevent wildfires.” The area in which I receive my electrical service has been designated a high fire threat district by the California Public Utilities Commission. If weather conditions indicate fire danger is elevated — if there are strong winds and the vegetation is dry — SoCal Edison may temporarily shut off power in my area for the safety of the public!

Our heat advisories and potential power shutoffs can be avoided:

● If stringent efficiency standards are adopted, the average energy efficiency of air conditioners around the world could more than double between now and 2050, reducing the demand on electricity generation and potentially cutting carbon dioxide emissions substantially. (International Energy Agency, “Future of Cooling,” p.12.)

● If paired with increased renewable energy on the grid, it could cut carbon dioxide emissions related to cooling by 13% compared to 2016. (International Energy Agency, “Future of Cooling,” p.13.)

● If electricity prices better reflected their full cost — if, say, carbon dioxide emissions were factored into the cost — there would be more incentive for devices like air conditioners and buildings to be more efficient.

● H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation Act, is one way to solve the problem. It is a bipartisan bill that will reduce carbon emissions by at least 40% in 12 years, while returning a monthly cash dividend to all U.S. households. Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, has cosponsored the bill, because she knows our present and future are at stake.

● And if the new, less heat-trapping chemicals are used, the air conditioners that do run will have a smaller global warming effect.

In the end, it’s what’s on the inside (of my air conditioner) that matters to my inner peace.

Janis Gabbert is a Valencia resident.

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