Cool It

Edd Doerr

Ah, air conditioning. It cools our homes and apartments, offices and factories, shopping malls and restaurants, cars and subway trains. In 2016, there were 1.6 billion air conditioners worldwide, and by 2026, there will be six billion air conditioners and refrigerators and refrigeration units. Demand grows as global climate warms. Right now, over 90 percent of households in the United States and Japan have air conditioning, while fewer than 10 percent of households in the tropics possess it.

Air conditioners and refrigeration units put greenhouse gases into our atmosphere—by leaking hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and by using electricity generated by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Combined, they inject four billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air per year. And the more the world uses air conditioning and refrigeration, the warmer the atmosphere gets, upping the demand and requiring more energy expenditure. The obvious answers to these problems, of course, are units that do not leak and switching from burning fossil fuels to solar and wind power.

The above data come from The Economist (“Global Cooling,” August 25, 2018). Oddly, the article did not mention the overpopulation that fuels climate change and global warming. And this brings us to … .

Cool It, Part 2

In addition to the consequences of burning fossil fuels to cool our indoor environment, we also need to look at what we humans eat. Worldwide, more and more people are shifting to an American or Western diet heavy on meat and dairy products. About 75 percent of agricultural land (about half of all land) is used “in some way to grow animals for food or to grow animal feed.” In his book Diet for a New America, John Robbins writes that “animals grown for food consume an amount of food greater than the caloric needs of the entire human population of the planet.” Further, raising animals for human food uses up to ten times as much water as growing crops directly for human food. With fresh water in increasingly short supply, it would make sense for us humans to change our diets.

Paula Sandin and Jennifer Sandin Adams make this point in their 2018 book Change the Food, Change the World. They make the case for switching from a meat-and-dairy diet to a plant-based diet (vegan or vegetarian). The authors also make the points that plant-based diets improve physical and mental health and in the long run reduce healthcare costs. They also contend that the people who work in the animal slaughtering industry have awful, demeaning, nasty jobs that you, dear reader, and I would not want.

Unmentioned by the authors, as by The Economist, is the matter of human overpopulation, which, to repeat ad nauseam, is what fuels climate change and global warming. And this brings us to … .

Cool It, Part 3

Air conditioning/refrigeration and meat consumption are just two of the many concomitants of the climate change crisis afflicting our planet, along with overuse of renewable and nonrenewable resources, deforestation, desertification, toxic waste accumulation, melting ice and rising sea levels, increasing sociopolitical instability and violence, and so on, all of which are tied to human overpopulation. Too few people want to talk about this, even though the Republican (!) Ford administration produced the National Security Study Memorandum 200 report in 1975 that called attention to it and recommended universal access to contraception and abortion. The Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, and Trump administrations have gone overboard thwarting efforts to implement the Ford report.

For much of this past year, we have been inundated with news reports about the Catholic clergy sexual abuse and cover-up scandals: the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the commencement of similar investigations in other states, developments in Australia, Chile, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany, and more. Readers will find a useful summary of much of the abuse-coverup scandals at Wikipedia’s sixty-page entry titled “Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Cases.”

Let’s connect the dots. With the Vatican and the bishops under increasing fire for the never-ending sexual abuse and cover-up scandals—and with the worsening climate change situation—now is the time for sane, reasonable people of all persuasions to really ramp up the drive to tackle the overpopulation crisis head on. We must turn up the heat on politicians and lawmakers at all levels to make universal access to contraception and safe, legal abortion a fact on the ground, as well as increasing all efforts to deal with all the concomitants of climate change, such as reversing Trump’s insane withdrawal from the Paris accords, his irresponsible devotion to coal, and his gutting of environmental protection measures. Let’s note that the overwhelming majority of Catholics have no problem with contraception and that a somewhat smaller majority of Catholics are okay with abortion. Note the May 25 referendum in predominantly Catholic Ireland, in which exactly two-thirds of voters approved of abortion, and that the anti-choice forces in the United States are mainly the abuse-tolerating bishops and pseudo-Christian evangelical leaders.

Think about this: Over the past fifty years there have been about two billion abortions worldwide—yes, that’s 2,000,000,000—plus uncountable pregnancies prevented by contraception, plus many tens of thousands of prevented deaths of women from unsafe, illegal abortions. Without those abortions and the growing use of contraception, world population would now easily exceed an unsustainable ten billion. Population scientists believe with evidence that our planet can support only about two billion people at U.S. and European lifestyles. So Vatican and assorted religious fundamentalist traditions could bring down our whole civilization.

Edd Doerr

Edd Doerr is a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He headed Americans for Religious Liberty for thirty-six years and is a past president of the American Humanist Association.


Ah, air conditioning. It cools our homes and apartments, offices and factories, shopping malls and restaurants, cars and subway trains. In 2016, there were 1.6 billion air conditioners worldwide, and by 2026, there will be six billion air conditioners and refrigerators and refrigeration units. Demand grows as global climate warms. Right now, over 90 percent …

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