Large numbers of Europeans abhor the idea of air conditioning, seeing it as a huge energy waste driving the production of the greenhouse gases blamed for rising global temperatures.
VIENNA — During the recent talks over the Iranian-nuclear program, the temperatures outside the ritzy Palais Coburg Hotel, where the talks were taking place, approached 100 degrees.
Inside, where Cabinet-level leaders from six of the world’s most powerful nations, as well as Iran, were conducting their delicate diplomatic negotiations, it was even hotter.
“You have no idea what our room is like, said one Western diplomat, who declined to be named. “The Coburg Hotel is a lovely hotel,” he said. “But — way off the record — air conditioning is not what they did best.”
Air conditioning may be considered a boon in the United States, making livable Florida’s tropical summers and cooling the blazing, triple-digit heat in Texas or California’s Central Valley. And it may set off office battles between men and women over what the proper temperatures should be.
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But there are no such disputes in Europe. Europeans abhor the idea of air conditioning, noting, rather smugly, that it’s a huge energy guzzler that helps drive the production of the greenhouse gases blamed for pushing global temperatures up.
Travel websites include stories — mostly from women — of how unpleasant the United States is with its artificial cold, and reports of legions of Europeans who return ill.
In uber-green Germany, a government website recently offered sweating citizens the advice of turning on a fan, noting that only 2 percent of the homes are air-conditioned. Still, there are those who say summers are getting hotter and wonder if Germans really need to live so uncomfortably.
A “hot” day, what the Germans call a “Hitzetag,” officially is one when the temperature reaches 86 degrees. A night when the temperature stays above 68 degrees is known as a “Tropennacht,” meaning “tropical night.” In the early 1950s, “hot days” typically numbered three to four a year. Today that number is up to 18 in parts of Germany. There are 13 forecast this month alone for Berlin, which is usually on the cool side for Germany.
When Germans set up their futuristic looking intercity-train system (ironically called ICE), they did add air-conditioning to keep passengers cool — as long as outside temperatures don’t soar above 89.6 degrees. Windows don’t open on high-speed trains, and with more and more higher-temperature days, ICE trains have gotten a reputation as fast-moving broilers.
“We have complaints every year,” said Frank Boehnke, spokesman for the Association of German Rail Users, a federal consumer group. “The temperature inside the trains can reach 122 degrees. “Passengers can be locked up in such conditions for hours.”
Hotels either don’t offer air conditioning or it doesn’t work. Even grocery stores are insufferable; entire sections of produce are thrown out for over-ripening in the extreme temperatures.
Paul Becker, vice president of the German weather service, warns that the problem goes beyond mere comfort.
“In the wake of climate change, we expect more, longer and more intense heat waves in Germany in the future,” he said in a statement last month. “If we don’t succeed in adjusting, this could lead to a multiplication of heat-related mortality due to coronary heart disease by a factor of 3 to 5 by the end of the century.”
Still, the German government is loath to recommend more air conditioning. The German Ministry of the Environment this month exempted air conditioning from subsidies provided to adapt to climate change.
But officials also aren’t sure what to do if faced with another summer like 2003, when an estimated 70,000 Europeans died from heat-related causes.
The cost of no air-conditioning was seen dramatically in Paris, where the French government chastised young families for heading to the cooler coasts during that year’s heat and leaving aging parents in their Paris apartments. In first two weeks of August, 14,800 died.
Reactions to that summer varied. In Greece, an estimated 99 percent of households now have air-conditioning, surpassing even America’s 87 percent. Switzerland’s energy consumption for air conditioning has doubled in the last 10 years and accounts for all the power generated by one of that country’s five nuclear reactors.
But the percentage of air-conditioned French homes remains below 5 percent, with rates in Germany and Austria even lower.
Niklas Schinerl, an energy expert at Greenpeace Germany, predicts Europe will hold the line. “I don’t think the top end is as high for Europe as it is in the United States,” he said. “And that’s a good thing for the climate.”