TCI Magazine
Air-Conditioned Environmentalists
The Environment

Air-Conditioned Environmentalists

At the United Nations climate secretariat in Bonn, Germany, it is hot. Not only because it is summer, but also because of the hundreds of computers at work. However, the 400 staff of the climate secretariat had to make do without the energy guzzling comfort of air-conditioning.

It’s not that the air conditioners were switched off. “The building simply doesn’t have a/c,” says John Hay, the secretariat spokesman.

It would be stupid of anyone to think that the United Nations Climate Secretariat was not fitted with air-conditioners because they do not have money to do so, or that the workers do not enjoy the comfort air conditions offer. The reason is they are true environmentalists. They are aware of the fact that Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a gas released into the atmosphere as air-conditioners are working, has its own quota of hole it drills on the ozone layer. Through those holes, dangerous ultra-violet rays enter into our atmosphere.

In contrast, inside the Cigar Lounge of Avenue Suites Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos Nigeria, venue of discussion on the sustainability of the Eko Atlantic City project organized by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, The German Green Foundation, the air-conditioners were at full blasts, almost freezing some guests and participants. Besides the usual cool weather associated with that area due to its closeness to the Bar Beach, it had rained the previous night, so it was naturally cold without air-conditioners. Yet, the air-conditioners in the hotel and (supposedly) many other buildings were blasting, wasting scarce energy, and pumping more CFCs into the air.

It was one journalist at the forum – to whom environmental issues are a religion – that pointed out the inconsistency. He took the microphone from the moderator and said, “I want to suggest that the next time we have this type of gathering, let us switch off the a/c. We all know what harm CFCs from a/c are doing to the ozone. Do we even need air-conditioners here now? The weather here is naturally cold and most of us are shivering from the cold. For me environmentalism is a religion. If we …”

“I must stop you now,” said the moderator. She moved towards the journalist, trying to take the microphone from him. Obviously she did not like what the journalist was suggesting.

There are a lot of people who call themselves environmentalists but cannot live without air-conditioners and lots of other gadgets harmful to the environment. For a moment, the Lounge was quiet, except some chuckles of a few attendants who probably liked the suggestion made by the journalist and saw sense in what he was saying.

They were all there looking for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) document for the Eko Atlantic City in order to know whether the project was sustainable or not. But the EIA of air-conditioners and refrigerators have long been ascertained by science and they are aware of it. So why do people who call themselves environmentalists find it difficult to adopt a lifestyle that will not hurt the environment, such as blasting their a/c even when the weather is cold?

The journalist/environmentalist could not be stopped by the moderator. “I once read a story of an Indian woman who took her son to Mahatma Gandhi and pleaded with him to tell her son to stop eating sugar,” the journalist continued. “The woman was sure that her son would take Gandhi’s advice because he loved Gandhi. But Gandhi asked them to come back after two weeks.

Two weeks later they returned to Gandhi. So Gandhi simply told the son to stop eating sugar; that sugar was not good for anyone. The boy agreed. But before they left, the boy’s mother curiously asked Gandhi, “Why didn’t you tell him so last two weeks when we first came?” Gandhi replied: “I needed two weeks to stop myself from eating sugar.” The sage did not feel comfortable advising someone else to stop eating sugar when he himself eats sugar.

Sincerely, we are all guilty when it comes to environmental sins. We all have, in one way or the other, contributed to the global environmental problems today, and we all must be part of the solution. It may be difficult for us to completely abstain from lifestyles that will hurt the environment. But we can try. In the case of air-conditioners, we can actually cut down the way we use it, more so for those who claim to be environmentalists? We cannot afford to be air-conditioned environmentalists.


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