Air Conditioning in Unusual Places

Today, Donald MacKenzie gave a fabulous talk at the University of Michigan about his recent research into high frequency trading (here’s a LRB piece of his on the topic). He noted in the talk that the data centers where high frequency traders locate their servers need to be kept quite cold, to ensure that the server function optimally. In a working paper, MacKenzie notes that (in part because of their cooling needs) “data centres have made the finance sector the largest power consumer in New Jersey.”

Air conditioning is also a major expense in a setting about as far as you can get from New Jersey and high finance: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a retired brigadier general (as reported by NPR), “When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we’re talking over $20 billion [per year].” As the story elaborates, “To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in landlocked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than “improved goat trails,” Anderson says. “And you’ve got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way.””

Just an idle thought, but I would eagerly read a history of air conditioning (with a focus on its importance in unusual places).



  1. Lawal Abubakar

     /  March 25, 2012

    it quite true and intresting on your comment,and people if we take correction of using air conditioning room or office properly.but in developing countries some people misuse aircondition even during cold weather,and they feels like using air condition is leisure,luxury goods and fashion.mis use of airconditioning occured in offices,houses and in the cars,buses,trailers.if motor vechiles dont have ac people not patronise.

  2. D. Michelle Addington wrote a good essay on the history of air conditioning. She examines its emergence in the context of the Hygiene movement in the late 19th / early 20th century and a theory of disease that saw stagnant, improperly circulated air as a major cause of illness.

    Addington, D. Michelle (2003), “Your Breath is Your Worst Enemy” in “Living with the Genie: Essays on Technology and the Quest for Human Mastery” (eds: Sarewitz and Lightman), Island Press

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