When did the air inside become cool and fresh?
Air conditioning is one of those innovations that have become so commonplace that many people in the developed world are unaware that it did not exist less than a century ago. Indeed, not long ago, the air inside our buildings and the air outside of them were the same, and people had little control over their surroundings. Eric Dean Wilson delves into the history of this area in his new book, “After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort.”
To get people to want to buy an air conditioner, it took more than just designing it. For years, entire social classes outright rejected the technology. To put air conditioning at the core of our constructed environment, needed a lot of hustling, marketing savvy, and widespread societal change.
Wilson covers that history, but he has a bigger goal in mind: he wants us to recognize how our everyday conveniences harm others. Our choice of frosty cooling produces massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, putting our earth and civilization under undue strain. In the end, our quest for comfort leads to more insecurity and, eventually, less comfort.
It’s a controversial book, and TechCrunch welcomed Wilson for a Twitter Space conversation earlier this week. Here are some highlights from our talk in case you missed it. Danny Crichton (Danny Crichton): The book’s framing tale revolves around your travels with your friend Sam, who works to acquire and destroy Freon. What made you chose that particular story arc?
Sam was working for a green energy company at the time and they were attempting to figure out how to take on green projects that were profitable. Eric Dean Wilson: They discovered that they could do so by locating used Freon, notably CFC-12. It’s no longer manufactured, thank god, but it was partly responsible for the partial destruction of the ozone layer, and production was outlawed by the 1990s. However, it is perfectly legal to use it, as well as to buy and sell it on the secondary market.
This is a legal gap in the refrigerant’s legality because the US government and those who signed the Montreal Protocol believed that if they ceased producing it, Freon would be almost eliminated by the year 2000. That didn’t happen, which is a bit of a puzzle. So Sam was traveling throughout the United States, looking for Freon on the internet, and meeting people (mostly auto hobbyists or mechanics) who had hoarded the gas, which he was buying from them in order to destroy it for carbon credits under California’s cap-and-trade system.
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