The warm consequences of air-conditioning

Last month, I paid a visit to the newest attraction in Singapore – Gardens by the Bay. Situated along the frontiers of the bustling central business district, Gardens by the Bay places two grand climate ‘conversatories’ amidst the urban heat island.

The Sun was scorching hot. The cloudless sky and the concrete-laden ground didn’t help at all. I estimated that temperatures in the open were in excess of 35 degrees celcius. Apparently, despite the government’s truly laudable efforts to ‘greenify’ the area, the urban heat island effect caused by a neighbouring concrete jungle inevitably spilled over to Gardens by the Bay. However, after entering the air-conditioned chilled conservatories, I felt so comfortable that I really wanted to stay. The temperatures within the conservatories were miraculously cooled to around 20 degree celcius. This was totally an escape from the urban heat island.

Chilled conservatories in Gardens by the Bay

Instead of creating artificial getaways to escape the looming urban heat island effect in the city, shouldn’t we use resources to alleviate the unnerving heat, rather than escape the problem?

In a conservatory, I looked through the sky lights. Yes, the tropical Sun was still burning. But the temperature within the conservatory made me feel as if I were in New Zealand enjoying autumn.

This is worrying. With global warming under way, temperatures are rising. As cities build more and more concrete structures, the urban heat islands effect in cities are multiplied. While we build conservatories and air-conditioned retreats amidst a concrete jungle, we are not solving the problem. Instead, we are circumventing it. Our resources are not geared towards solving the fundamental problems present in world in the first place. The resources spent in constructing these climate ‘domes’ could have been utilized to implement more effective eco-structures within Gardens by the Bay, or even within the CBD, thereby increasing eco-efficiency. It’s analogous to this: on the metro, you hear hooligans making noise, but instead of finding ways to stop that noise for the betterment of all, you put on your earphones to pretend the noise doesn’t exist.

But when we focus so hard on ignoring the problem, sadly, the problem escalates. What’s worse, in this case of air-conditioning, in order to ignore the problem, we must escalate it. As more air-conditioners are built to escape the heat, more CFCs are released to enhance the greenhouse effect. Here’s a vicious cycle. The more air cons we build, the higher the temperatures rise. And we can’t totally rely on air-conditioning to cool ourselves down. Therefore, the sustainable way for all of humanity to enjoy cooler temperatures is to stop releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If you haven’t noticed, air-conditioning makes you feel cool for a short period but let’s consider them with greater prescience: it makes the world a hotter place for everyone.

On News 5 Tonight, a tourist couple in Spain dreaded the European heat wave.

“It’s very hot and dry. But we like the air-conditioning inside.”

Gardens by the Bay official homepage
Summer heatwave in Europe
Some photos I took at Gardens by the Bay

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