Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then Came The Heat Wave (#GotBitcoin?)
America’s fondness for artificially chilled air was long viewed as wasteful, unnatural and wimpy, but record temperatures have some Germans rethinking. Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then Came The Heat Wave (#GotBitcoin?)
Natalie Mayer knows why Germans disdain the air conditioner, or the Klimaanlage—literally, climate apparatus.
“People here don’t like air conditioning. They think it’s a waste of energy, it’s bad for the environment, and people say it makes them sick,” said Ms. Mayer, a Californian who has lived abroad for more than a decade, including the last four years in Berlin.
She also knows it’s easy to be anti-A/C until getting punched in the face by 100-degree weather. Summer is barely a week old, and heat records in Germany are already getting busted right and left.
Ms. Mayer bought a portable air-conditioning unit for her office desk, setting off something of a tempest in a teapot among her colleagues.
“Everybody was curious. They would say, ‘Does it work well?’ And I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you sit in my seat and try it out,’” said Ms. Mayer, a business developer at retail startup Fit Analytics. Two co-workers bought their own.
Germans have always looked down on America’s fondness for artificially chilled air as wasteful, unnatural and wimpy. Rather than install climate control in buildings and subways, schools and offices will simply close if it gets too hot. Now, the increasing frequency of triple-digit highs have forced a national reckoning.
Germany’s Trade Association for Air Conditioning said that last summer, the second-warmest on record since 1881, yielded a 15% jump in sales to 200,000 units. That figure is expected to climb this summer, as more Germans rebel against the nation’s obsession with energy conservation.
High temperatures are known to make people act out of character. Police in the German state of Brandenburg stopped a man riding naked on a motorcycle. He said it was too hot for clothes.
German authorities have even imposed speed limits on stretches of the Autobahn, fearing it could buckle like heated wax.
Old-fashioned oscillating fans have always been the preferred way for Germans to keep homes and offices cool. Property leases for apartments implore tenants to open their windows several times a day to help regulate temperature. A video from the German news magazine Focus, keeping to tradition, suggested a cooling method using “a fan, a towel, and a bowl of water.”
Retailers fear a fan and air conditioner shortage this summer. Annabell Feith, a spokeswoman for the retail group that owns two of Germany’s largest electronics stores, MediaMarkt and Saturn, said the chains were bolstering their orders. Last year, some stores sold out by August.
“We are advising customers, if they want to buy a fan, to be very quick, because we expect more heat,” she said, “and we are almost sold out, especially in Berlin.”
Bild, the country’s best-selling tabloid, said Wednesday it would raffle 100 fans an hour to subscribers from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
At Adidas AG , the international sports-gear company based in Herzogenaurach, offices are “climate controlled” but still warm enough that employees are offered ice cream on hot days. Employees also are allowed to work in shorts, T-shirts and sandals, said Claudia Lange, a company spokeswoman.
Cooling is spotty at U.S. firms with outposts in Germany. Facebook offices in Hamburg provided air conditioning in meeting rooms but not in the open spaces where staffers sit, a spokesman said.
Jesse Pinho, an American developer at Berlin-based menstrual cycle tracking app Clue, said he was surprised at the scarcity of air conditioning around the city. So he made an interactive map of public places with central air, mostly grocery stores and Starbucks .
The map, called KalteKarte, or Cold Map, racked up more than 75,000 views since its launch last summer. The reaction, he said, has been hot and cold.
“I have gotten some criticism from people who are concerned about the effect of air conditioning on climate change, due to the extra power being consumed,” Mr. Pinho said. “And this is a valid point: The very reason that Germany doesn’t have A/C is that it never used to be this hot!”
Alexander Krex wrote a satirical essay last week for Hamburg-based newspaper Die Zeit, urging Germans to embrace the joy of energy-sucking air conditioners the same way they enjoy dialing up the heat in winter. “Why else do we have our world-famous engineers?” he wrote.
Another reason Germans have been reluctant to embrace air conditioning is a national conviction that any breeze can make you sick. As temperatures soared this week, the German Red Cross urged the public to turn on all fans and open windows. “‘Durchzug’ is not harmful, only Germans believe that!” the agency tweeted.
In Switzerland, the air-conditioning issue got some politicians into hot water. When the room for a recent council meeting in Lausanne got too warm, Swiss MP and Green Party member Bastien Girod asked someone to turn on the air conditioner. The un-Green request was gleefully reported on Twitter by a spokesman for a rival party.
After the uproar, Mr. Girod defended air conditioning as a health measure. “Because the heat can be deadly, it would be wrong to demonize air conditioners in general,” he said. “…they can make sense, even save lives.”
No doubt, many people agree it is more comfortable. A study by the Freiburg-based Institute for Applied Ecology reported that the share of German homes with air conditioning could rise to as much as 13% by 2030 from 3% in 2015. Enjoying the cooling effect, though, isn’t so easy.
Birgit Herrmannek, 62, who owns a condominium outside of Frankfurt, wants to buy an air conditioner for herself. First, though, she had to navigate a 60-page manual of rules for property owners.
Among the conditions for a new A/C unit: seeking authorization from co-owners. Permission for installation must consider its impact on neighbors for noise, tidiness and the structure of the building, according to the German Homeowners Association.
Despite the hurdles, which could include a face-to-face meeting with other condo residents, Ms. Herrmannek said she understood why there were restrictions: “The boxes of the outside air conditioners do not look pretty.”
Record Temperatures Put Europe To The Test
Heat waves have become more frequent on the Continent, with record temperatures in some parts now an almost yearly phenomenon.
Record-breaking temperatures are testing whether Europe is prepared to face summer heat closer to that in the Mojave Desert than the Continent’s traditionally temperate climate.
This year, Germany recorded its hottest June since tracking began in 1881, including the hottest June day since 1947. In neighboring Austria, the month broke records for heat, aridity and sunshine dating back to the 18th century.
Across the south of France, a dozen weather stations recorded temperatures above 111 degrees Fahrenheit. On Friday, the temperature rose to nearly 115 degrees Fahrenheit—a new high in the country since records began—in the town of Gallargues-le-Montueux.
“June 2019 was extreme in every way,” said Alexander Orlik, climatologist for the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics in Austria. The entire month, Mr. Orlik said, was characterized by weather conditions with a south or southwest current, which brought very warm and at times subtropical air from the Sahara to Europe.
Since the year 1500, the warmest summers in Europe were observed in 2003, 2010, and 2018, according to Dim Coumou, a climatologist for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It is too early to say whether this summer will rank among those, “but it’s pretty clear 2019 will be much warmer than normal,” he said.
The reason for the extreme highs, as seen in June of this year, is primarily mean temperatures rising around the globe. “The summer temperatures in Europe are about 2 degrees warmer than 100 years ago, and that is very pronounced factor,” he said.
As temperatures rose, so did fears that Europe was about to repeat the deadly heat wave of 2003 that prematurely killed more than 70,000 people across 16 countries, according to a 2008 report. Some 15,000 of those deaths came in France alone, many of them among the elderly.
In the past couple of decades, heat waves have become more frequent in Europe, with record temperatures in some parts of the Continent becoming an almost yearly phenomenon. What researchers describe as “mega heat waves,” such as those that occurred in 2003 and again in 2010, likely broke 500-year-old seasonal temperature records over roughly half of Europe, according to a 2011 study in the journal Science.
The result has been more heat-related deaths, particularly among elderly people, but also among younger people who are very active outdoors. In 2015, nearly 3,300 people died in France from a heat wave, the Brussels-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters says.
When a heat wave is combined with urban pollution from ozone and fine particles, deaths increase, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO found that in 15 European cities, mortality increased at least 2% for every 1-degree increase in apparent temperature—a measure of heat and humidity perceived by humans—over a city’s normal threshold. The increases were several times larger during longer heat waveslasting more than four days.
Unlike the U.S., homes with air-conditioning systems are few and far between in Europe. Many are centuries old and rely on heavy stone walls to insulate their interiors from hot air.
In the wake of the 2003 heat wave, France developed a nationwide warning system; activated special “blue plans” in homes and other establishments for older or disabled people; and implemented local plans to shelter homeless people and check on older and handicapped people, who are now part of a national registry set up for heat waves.
France’s health ministry says it won’t have a complete tally of casualties from this year’s heat wave until the end of July. But on Friday, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said during a visit to the southern city of Nimes at the peak of the heat wave, “there will be far fewer deaths” this year than 16 years ago. “We are much better prepared compared with 2003.”
Among the handful of people whose deaths from the heat have become public so far this year are a cyclist and workers who were outside in direct sun, according to news reports. The health ministry advised against being in full sun during the heat wave.
By Saturday, heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke accounted for about 1.5% of demands for medical care in France, including emergency-room visits, according to the French health ministry. By Monday, the figure had dropped to roughly 1.1% of all emergency-room visits in France, and the overall figure was falling, the ministry said.
On Saturday, the extreme heat forced players in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup, which France is hosting, to take regular cooling breaks, pausing the matches to offer players water and shade.
Pain from the hot weather wasn’t evenly distributed. While southern France set records, beating the heat from 2003, Paris topped out at about 97 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday. That is high for June but below levels the city hits in July or August.
Temperatures across Germany last week twice broke the record for the month of June, escalating tensions at public pools and leading authorities to issue warnings about dangerous levels of UV rays.
On Sunday, a high of 39.6 degrees Celsius (103 F) in Saxony-Anhalt set the record for hottest June day in Germany, eclipsing a previous mark observed on Wednesday, according to the German Weather Service.
A forest fire near Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has forced the evacuation of more than 650 people as authorities struggled to contain the blaze into Tuesday, according to police in Ludwigslust.
On Saturday, police in Düsseldorf used pepper spray to control crowds at a public pool after a fight broke out among patrons, according to local media. Some 400 bathers were involved in the dispute, though no injuries were reported, according to Die Welt. Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then, Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then, Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then, Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then, Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then, Germany Scorned Air Conditioning—Then