By Josh Dzieza
When Rutam Vora was growing up in Vadodara, a city of about 2 million people near the western coast of India, his parents kept cool each summer by drenching bedsheets in water and hanging them in the windows of their house. When the scorching westerly wind known as the loo swept in and hit the sheets, the evaporating water absorbed the brunt of the heat. White chalk spread on the roof reflected the sun and dropped the temperature further. They were old methods of coping with the heat, like drinking lassis or chaas when “struck by the loo,” and they were effective.
But the weather, already hot, has been getting hotter. In the summer of 2015, it hit 114 degrees Fahrenheit in nearby Ahmedabad, where Vora works as a correspondent for The Hindu. The next summer, it passed 122 degrees, a record. It’s not uncommon for people to wrap their faces in wet cloth when venturing onto the furnace-like streets, and the wind is so hot it feels heavy. “For about a decade, the temperature has been going up,” Vora said. “But now, the last couple summers have been extreme, going beyond normal, bearable conditions.”
Earlier this year, Vora’s mother came down with a bacterial infection, and part of the doctor’s prescription was to stay cool. When the meteorological department warned of yet another punishing summer on the way, Vora decided it was time to buy an air conditioner.
Across India, millions of people are making similar calculations. The share of Indians with air conditioning is still small, roughly 5 percent, but it’s growing fast. Rising incomes are making air conditioners more attainable, while rising temperatures are making them a necessity. “There are hundreds of millions of people for whom air conditioning doesn’t seem like a luxury good,” said Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “It can mean the difference between life and death…”
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