Pope Francis’s aversion to air conditioning may be red hot, but he himself is comfortably cool. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, published today, the pope lambasts wasteful consumerism and unchecked human economic activity as a root of climate change, singling out one product in particular for censure: the air conditioner.
“A simple example [of harmful habits of consumption] is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning,” Francis writes. “The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behavior, which at times appears self-destructive.”
…Two years ago, Francis broke with tradition when he became the first pope since 1903 to forgo the papal apartments for newer, more modest accommodations in Domus Sanctae Marthae, an adjacent building erected in 1996 to house cardinals during papal conclaves. In line with Francis’s image as the “people’s pope,” a Vatican spokesman said the pope wanted a more “simple living arrangement.” Simple, yes, but air-conditioned.
The pope isn’t just being a tad hypocritical here – he’s being short-sighted. Air conditioning is an exemplar of modern ingenuity, but it’s also a mechanical thermoregulatory product that’s often put to conservative ends — for instance to preserve important artifacts of the past. In fact, right next to the air-conditioned Domus Sanctae Marthae is the Vatican Secret Archives, which conserves invaluable documents spanning millennia by controlling the microclimate in which they are housed.