Let them eat curry

It has often been rumored that when Marie Antoinette was told that the people of France faced starvation because they had no bread, she replied “Let them eat cake.”

The story isn’t true, but it does encapsulate the kind of cavalier, thoughtless, arrogant thinking that makes people want to cut your head off.

If the people of India and Pakistan were facing starvation, what would we recommend? “Let them eat curry”? Fortunately, they aren’t presently facing terrible food shortages. But thousands of those people — human beings — died as a result of recent killer heat waves. What advice does Judith Curry offer? This:

Looks like they need more air conditioning in Spain and France and also South Asia.

Does it make more sense to provide air conditioning or to limit CO2 emissions. I vote for more air conditioning in these susceptible regions.

Let them buy air conditioners! Never mind that they’re poor and can’t afford it. Ignore the fact that the energy use would make global warming worse. And be sure to paint it as an “either/or” proposition whether it is or not. Just don’t make us do anything like limit CO2 emissions.

28 responses to “Let them eat curry

  1. I don’t really mind if they eat Curry, good riddance…

  2. And when the sea level rise from the melt of Greenland and the WAIS really starts to hit, perhaps the retort will be “Après nous, le déluge”. A quote of somewhat greater veracity, but of the same vintage.

    • Jeffrey Davis

      From this edition of Life in Hell … I’ve read where Bangladesh is building lots of coal-fired electric plants.

      Nobody stranger than people.

  3. michael sweet

    And when their cattle and grain start dying in the field, air condition the fields!

  4. I think it is wrong for either you or Curry to cast this as an either/or proposition. I also think that there is a very strong moral case to be made for rapid expansion of air conditioning technology in Asia. There are few options available that are likely to reduce mortality from stresses related to heat waves faster than providing widespread access to air conditioned indoor spaces. Certainly it would achieve that goal much faster than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But that alone is not a good reason to forego greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

    • There is indeed the problem that you will need ever more airconditioning while CO2 levels, and thus warming, rise unabated as Curry would like us to do. So we probably need both measures.

    • First it would be nice if many of the people who died in the heatwave had a home to put their air-conditioner in. Secondly, if the answer to global warming is burning coal to drive air-conditioners, then I hope those who are primarily responsible for climate change are paying for it.

  5. “I also think that there is a very strong moral case to be made for rapid expansion of air conditioning technology in Asia.”
    Wrong-headed and dumb idea; even in Australia, and I assume in other first-world countries, where electricity is universally available, there are tens if not hundreds of thousand of people who can’t afford air-conditioning.

    • Cooling a unit of air is one of the most energy intensive things you can do. It speaks volumes that Curry is seemingly unaware of what this entails.

      In Australia air-conditioning adds billions of dollars in spare-capacity and grid costs. The entire network has to be built for 45 degree days, otherwise it risks massive and catastrophic failure. Even then, it still fails on some of the worst days..

      The idea that this can be done at a reasonable cost is farcical and completely divorced from reality.

  6. Air conditioning as a fundamental human right?

  7. Jonathan Gilligan

    Resources for the Future estimated the health impacts of coal-fired electricity generation in India: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2093610

    They concluded that coal-fired electricity in India kills roughly 1 person for every 10 gigawatt hours of electricity generated. With one billion people, that means roughly one death for every 10 watt-hours of per-capita consumption.

    If we figure roughly 4 people per household, and every household running a 500-Watt air conditioning unit 8 hours a day, the pollution (SO2, PM, and NOx) emitted in generating that electricity would kill roughly 100 people per day.

  8. As the Idiot Tracker memorably noted, it’s air conditioners all the way down: http://theidiottracker.blogspot.com/2011/12/air-conditioners-all-way-down.html

  9. In South Asia, most don’t have electricity, let alone A/C and the ones that have electricity don’t have it when the network fails in hot weather

    • Rattus Norvegicus

      Hell, the ISO in California had warnings about conserving this week because the hot temperatures would put a lot of stress on the grid. If THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD(tm) can’t handle what is going on now, what is it going to be like in 20 years.

  10. first: many of the heat wave dead in India were poor workers who dehydrated while working outside. Air condition?
    second: I hate to write it, but we are still in a state were approx. 20000 die each day from hunger and hunger related reasons. So i.m.h.o. there is m u c h too much fuzz about heat wave deaths. Typical example of skewed media world. And climate related hunger is, again i.m.h.o., t h e one big danger lurking around the corner. Remember: we’ll have temperature and population maxima not very far apart. (Also, i guess there are about as many traffic death cases in any self respecting Indian city per year as heat death cases in the whole of India, but i admit this might be going a wit too far.)
    third: intelligent architecture can reduce, of not eliminate, the necessity of air conditioning. Good thermal insulation, high thermal mass as a basis, use of nightly heat radiation into space as somewhat more advanced option.
    fourth: in the rich countries, photovoltaics are the obvious solution, as their power generation is more or less in tune with cooling power demand. And the evening can be covered with cold storage. No need to even bother the grid.

  11. In dry heat evaporative cooling is a relatively low energy & water usage option – very common here in Canberra

  12. Does she really think air conditioning is gonna help the people working outdoors, like p.ex. farmers who are still making up 60% of the labor fore in Vietnam !?

  13. A life-long resident of a northern climate, I’ve also worked from 70N to 30S and from -45°C to +40°C. An item that many of those discussing mortality from hot and cold extremes seem to have omitted is that warm clothing works very well, indoors and out. True, many of the poor and elderly are ill-clothed, but solving this is a matter of will and application, not massive, costly and untested technological solutions. In essence, a proven, inexpensive, low-energy solution to this problem has long been in hand.

    In contrast, it is very difficult to stay cool as temperatures climb above 35°C, particularly if accompanied by high humidity. If (or when) large expanses of impoverished and underdeveloped south Asia, Africa and South and Central America start experiencing prolonged heatwaves over 40°C, what kind of advice is “get an air conditioner”? Worse than useless for most, and even more so with respect to agriculture, livestock and outdoor workers.

    As other commenters have noted, it would be instructive to evaluate the relative level of concern for the poor professed by well-known ‘skeptics’ when the topic is anthropogenic climate change as opposed to other subjects (UN development programmes, minimum wages or social benefits, subsidized medical and health care, etc.) I would be surprised if they were to come out of such an exercise with their bona fides intact.

  14. Air conditioning moves heat from indoors to outdoors; but it also takes the work of the air-conditioning mechanism to move that heat. In the most efficient case, the ratio of the heat dumped outside to the heat taken from inside is the ratio of outdoor temperature to indoor temperature: In other words, more heat goes into the atmosphere than was removed from the inside of buildings. That means that running a cooling unit, on net, heats up the planet.

    That’s kind of obvious, in a way: You’re using electrical power to DO something, and it’s got to go somewhere. Eventually it ends up as more heat. What else could it do?

    So trying to keep a population cool by running cooling units is like trying to pay off your debts by getting a new credit card: It’s a self-defeating strategy. You will always be accumulating interest charges.

    • Phillip Helbig

      This is technically correct, but completely irrelevant in practice. The heat produced by all of humanity’s use of energy is completely negligible and doesn’t “heat up the planet” to any measurable degree.

      What does matter is heating up the planet due to greenhouse gases emitted in producing that energy.

      • Yes, it’s true that the GHG effect is far larger, over time, than the direct heating due to burning the fuel.

        The point of mentioning it is to show that the idea of air-conditioning the planet is inherently counter-productive. One doesn’t need to know how the numbers work out to see that; it’s conceptually ridiculous.

        Whereas it is not conceptually obvious that the amount of GHE heating due to burning fuels exceeds that produced by combustion.To know that, you have to do the calculations.

  15. Phillip Helbig

    At least some of these heat-wave deaths are due to the fact that Ramadan is in the summer and people aren’t eating and drinking as much as they should. (Ramadan in the summer is also a problem, for different reasons, for Muslims north of the Arctic Circle.)

  16. For any individual impact in any individual location, it is always going to be cheaper to adapt than to do global mitigation.

    But… you need the air conditioners for Pakistan. And Spain. And France. And India… and then you need the sea walls for Bangladesh. And New York City. And Miami… and then you need the desalination for the American Southwest. And so on and so forth.

    Plus, the whole, “should we spend resources on mitigation or adaptation/development” is a false dichotomy. Because we are currently spending a lot of resources on ridiculous military toys and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, which are presumably less good for society than mitigation…


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