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A brief history of air-conditioning

Air-conditioning has avoided the opprobrium attached to cars and planes, but as use of the technology grows rapidly so does its contribution to climate change

By James Fergusson   September 2006

Will historians look back at the summer heatwave of 2006 and declare it a turning point in the hearts-and-minds battle against global warming? Much of the northern hemisphere was united in discomfort. At the same time, the tone of public debate seemed to shift. Not many people followed the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who declared that flying away on holiday was sinful. But few of the energy-consuming machines that dominate life in the west have been able to escape critical scrutiny.

Except for one. There is a piece of 20th-century technology—seldom discussed or even noticed because it is practically…

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