With increasing temperatures caused by climate change, air conditioning is becoming a necessity for people’s comfort and health. A new study provides insight into consumers’ interest in home cooling by analyzing social media data, and addresses data gaps in demographic heterogeneity of global air conditioner adoption.

Air conditioning (AC) poses a challenge for both climate mitigation and climate adaptation: AC units require a lot of energy to run, and much of this energy comes from burning fossil fuels, contributing to climate change. However, as many countries are experiencing longer and more intense heatwaves, the need for AC is growing fast. Understanding the extent and drivers of AC adoption is important for projecting future cooling energy demand and heat vulnerability, yet the available data is limited to household surveys from only a few countries.  

A new IIASA study demonstrates that social media data can complement conventional data in terms of geographic, temporal, and contextual scope as a low-cost data source. Covering billions of users and collected by the same algorithms, social media data is consistent across countries, and provides large-scale information that cannot be obtained from surveys with inevitably limited sample size.

The study analyzed Facebook and Instagram data, focusing on the users’ online interest in air conditioning. The results show that social media data may represent the trends in AC purchases. Another key finding is that – at a global level – middle aged, highly educated, married, or cohabiting males, as well as parents of small children, tend to express more online interest in AC. Countries that are increasingly vulnerable to rising temperatures and heatwaves, such as the Balkans and Middle East, show the highest online interest in AC. In those countries, population groups that have been known to be reluctant to adopt to AC, such as the elderly, show a relatively high online interest in AC, so their attitude might be changing.

“Online interest in AC, and ultimately AC adoption, is dependent on sociodemographic factors, beyond macroeconomic and climatic factors,” notes Sibel Eker, a researcher in the Sustainable Service Systems Research Group and the lead author of the study. “By showing the extent of AC interest across the world and population groups, there is a much better understanding of how climate change adaptation measures might be adopted on a global scale, and in which countries and groups they might need to be promoted.”

Reference

Eker, S., Mastrucci A., Pachauri S., van Ruijven B. (2023) Social media data sheds light on air-conditioning interest of heat-vulnerable regions and sociodemographic groups. One Earth DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2023.03.011

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