Conventional wisdom about air-conditioning typically says that you should keep the doors closed. The heat situation is so dire in Qatar, however, that authorities have actually installed AC units outdoors, in streets and marketplaces. Temperatures there have reached 114 degrees, and with the World Cup coming up in November, something has to be done about the extreme heat. In addition to air-conditioning in public spaces, giant coolers have been installed along sidewalks, in outdoor shopping malls, and under stadium seats to keep pedestrians cool.
Outdoor AC might be a welcome innovation to residents, but it’s not doing the environment any long-term favors. Qatar is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses per capita in the world, using 60 percent of its electricity for cooling. This new initiative will only swell that number. By 2030, Qatar’s emissions are expected to nearly double.
The situation is a classic catch-22.
Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development, said, “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively.”
According to Jos Leliveld, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, the situation could become dire. “If it’s hot and humid and the relative humidity is close to 100 percent,” he said, “You can die from the heat you produce yourself.”
These fears are particularly prevalent in advance of the World Cup, where the safety of spectators is a huge concern. The event was even delayed by five months so it wouldn’t take place during the height of summer, and fans and athletes would be less likely to succumb to the heat.
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