When the heat waves of 2023 baked many parts of the United States with oven-dry drought conditions, the Biden administration’s newly formed Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) sounded the apocalyptic warning sirens. Admiral Rachel Levine, a pediatrician, leads the bureau with a charge of finding ways to right the wrongs of climate change, particularly when they are believed to disproportionately impact people of color.
The lack of air conditioning in low-income homes seems like a battle perfectly suited for Admiral Levine. An “all-of-government” response to outfit low-income homes with air conditioners seems like the first obvious attack. But, when it comes to household appliances, the fog of political war on the left makes those battle lines far from clear. Health equity never happens when practicalities of achieving it conflict with just about any other cause of the political left.
The pandemic lockdowns highlighted the need for Americans who struggle with poverty to get the air conditioning they need. The solution was obvious. Even the unpopular and politically tone-deaf former mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, responded compassionately by delivering 74,000 air conditioners to low-income New Yorkers.
One would think that as the left moves from the coronavirus to climate change as their driving political force, Levine would follow suit and load trucks with window air conditioning units. After all, asthma affects non-white kids the hardest. Moreover, African American children are more than twice as likely as white kids to visit an emergency room for asthma. And studies have concluded that kids who live in urban areas benefit from air conditioning as a means of preventing and treating asthma.
Last year, Richard Trumka, commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), warned Americans about a killer hiding in plain sight within the kitchens of many American homes. “Spread the word about this hidden hazard before you gather with family and friends for the holidays,” he said of gas stoves, before infamously threatening a ban by 2024. Several groups pointed to a study showing a stove-related increase of 12 percent in childhood asthma as their reason for banning gas stoves. Given the consensus among the administration that gas stoves are bad for asthma and air conditioning good for it, you would think the good folks at CPSC or OCCHE would have a do-gooder plan to trade your gas stove for an electric AC unit. But, of course, things are more complicated than that.
Our betters believe that while asthma is bad for kids, climate change that causes the need for more air conditioners is far worse. In fact, the Biden administration just slapped the industry with new regulations that will make air conditioning units more expensive for low-income Americans to buy, and existing units nearly impossible to fix.
As energy prices soar and low-income Americans struggle to pay their utility bills, the only thing they have to look forward to is the cool fall weather and a momentary break before winter brings its coming heating bills. A recent article from The Lancet explains why (presumably people other than the authors) should not expect air conditioning as a sustainable solution for the heat, promising “a more holistic understanding of the thermal environment at the landscape and urban, building, and individual scales supports the identification of numerous sustainable opportunities to keep people cooler.”
Next spring, that means when poor and asthmatic kids come home from school, they will have to open the windows and grab their inhalers.
Matt Dean ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for health care policy outreach with The Heartland Institute.