Students Need More Air Conditioning, Not More Climate Policy

There’s a long and growing list of problems activists blame on climate change, including students’ reduced ability to learn due to hotter classroom temperatures. However, the proposed solution, adoption of the climate change agenda, would do more harm than good for the world’s students.

It is well established that indoor temperatures above 80 degrees F adversely impact cognition, and the higher the temperature the worse it gets. The most recent studies confirming this association differ from older ones by including the obligatory assertion that climate change exacerbates the learning deficit.

In reality, there are reasons to question how much difference climate change makes for students, including the fact that most anthropogenic warming occurs in winter and does relatively little to make hot days hotter.

Other studies take a different approach to the issue of temperatures and cognition by documenting the substantial benefits of air conditioning on learning, both in schools as well as homes or dorms during study time.

Unfortunately, climate activists have all but declared war on air conditioning by measures that would both raise the cost of the equipment as well as the electricity to run it.

A United Nations treaty provision called the Kigali Amendment would restrict many of the most affordable refrigerants currently in use on the grounds that they are greenhouse gases. A pending Senate bill would do the same thing. Joining environmental groups in support of these measures are rent-seeking companies like Honeywell that have patented expensive replacement refrigerants and hope to secure a captive market for them.

Much of the rest of the climate agenda is focused on the elimination of coal and natural gas, two of the most affordable sources of electricity, thus raising operating costs for air conditioners.

A third of the world’s population is in tropical developing nations where the need for air conditioning is greater than in the U.S., but market penetration is low. The good news is that air conditioning is finally beginning to make inroads in these nations, but policies raising costs could slow or even reverse the progress.

How much would the climate change-fighting measures cool off classrooms? Even the more comprehensive provisions, like the United Nation’s Paris Accord, would only avert an estimated 0.17 degrees C (0.3 degrees F) by 2100,  far too little to measurably improve student performance. Compare that to an air conditioner that can take a 90- or even 100-degree F day outside a school and turn it into a perfectly conducive one inside—experts say around 72 degrees F is ideal for learning—and it is clear that a pro-air conditioning agenda is best for the world’s students.