Human beings have constantly been finding new ways to keep warm since mastering fire around 1 million years ago. While methods vary greatly from one country to the next, they all influence our personal lives and have an impact on the environment and global warming.
A Global Health Issue
These days, most of us do not think twice about heating. Yet, people still lose their lives from the cold. Every year, more than 500 homeless people die on the streets in France during cold spells. Even moderately low temperatures can be fatal if people are frequently exposed to them. An official study carried out in major French cities found that, between 2000 and 2019, 3.9% of all deaths were due to the cold (and 1.2% due to heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... ). On a global scale, a study estimated the figure for deaths from the cold to be over 7%, 17 times greater than deaths from heat. Put simply, the cold is more dangerous than heat.
Personal Finance Issues
Heating accounts for most energy consumption in the home – over two-thirds on average in France – compared with other uses, such as hot water, cooking, and electric and electronic devices. That means it is important to monitor heating use carefully in order to keep energy bills in check.
On a larger scale, the “residential” sector (houses and apartments) makes up 29% (almost a third) of all energy consumed in France. That is slightly less than the transportation sector, but much more than industry or the “tertiary” sector (shops and offices). This time, it is the country’s energy bill that is seriously affected, as it needs to produce or import energy.
Lots of energy means lots of CO2See Carbon Dioxid emissions, which contribute to global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... . Energy consumption in the residential sector has been stable in France over the last 20 years, as heating systems are more energy efficient and buildings are better insulated. However, if we want to achieve “net-zero emissions” by 2050 (see Close-Up), we will have to reduce our consumption through a combination of new technology and eco-friendly habits (watch the video).
Issues in Less Developed Countries
Heating gives rise to very different issues in less developed parts of the world. Although steady progress is being made, people in Africa, Asia and Latin America do not have the same easy access to heating. According to the United Nations (U.N.), 1.3 billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people still do not have access to electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... (see Close-Up). However, economic growth is a major factor. China is developing rapidly and only has 8 million people without electricity. India, on the other hand, has 300 million...
The Downsides of Firewood
Lacking access to gas or electricity, these poorer communities mainly use wood, charcoalCharcoal is carbon produced by the pyrolysis of wood in the absence of oxygen... , dried cow dung or very poor-quality coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... as fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... for both heating and cooking. There are many downsides to such methods:
- Constantly looking for firewood often results in uncontrolled deforestation, despite forests being essential ecosystems for the planet.
- Using open fires and poor-quality fuels causes severe indoor air pollution, leading to 2 million premature deaths a year.
- Gathering wood takes a long time, particularly for women and children, which means they cannot receive an education or find a decently paid job.
The Rise of Air Conditioning
The flip side to heating is air conditioning, the use of which is soaring, particularly in Asia. In 2017, there were 1.6 billion air conditioning units installed worldwide – and the figure is rising by an average of 135 million per year. Moreover, nearly 20% of all electricity consumed in buildings is for air conditioning and ventilation.