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Environmentalists Deprive the Poor of Cool Comfort

(p. A1) DELHI -- A thrill goes down Lane 12, C Block, Kamalpur every time another working-class family brings home its first air-conditioner. Switched on for a few hours, usually to cool a room where the whole family sleeps, it transforms life in this suffocating concrete labyrinth where the heat reached 117 degrees in May.

"You wake up totally fresh," exulted Kaushilya Devi, a housewife, whose husband bought a unit in May. "I wouldn't say we are middle class," she said. "But we are closer."

But 3,700 miles away, in Kigali, Rwanda, negotiators from more than 170 countries gathered this week to complete an accord that would phase out the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, worldwide, and with them the cheapest air-conditioners that are just coming within reach of people like Ms. Devi.

. . .

(p. A8) Sandhya Chauhan and her family live in two musty, windowless subterranean rooms, which turn stifling on summer nights, leaving six sweat-soaked adults to fidget, toss and pace until morning. They have lived there for 20 years, unable to find other lodging on the household's combined earnings of around 30,000 rupees a month, or less than $450.

But it was never as awful as this May, when temperatures crept so high that Ms. Chauhan's friends speculated that the earth was colliding with the sun. After a doctor warned Mrs. Chauhan that heat exhaustion was affecting their oldest son's health, her husband bought an air-conditioner on credit. Though they are hardly middle class -- "we have never let this thought cross our minds," Mrs. Chauhan said -- the purchase has changed the way they see themselves.

"My children sleep in peace," she said. "There was a sense of happiness from inside. There was a sense that father has done a great job."

Among the changes that have come with increasing wealth, Ms. Devi said, is the confidence to spend on the family's comfort, rather than squirreling every bit of savings away.

"Education is teaching people to take care of themselves," she said. "Now that we are used to air-conditioners, we will never go back."

For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY and CORAL DAVENPORT. "A Climate Deal Could Push Air-Conditioning Out of India's Reach." The New York Times (Thurs., October 13, 2016): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 12, 2016, and has the title "Emerging Climate Accord Could Push A/C Out of Sweltering India's Reach." The online version of the article says that the New York edition had the headline "Accord May Push Air-Conditioning Out of India's Reach" and appeared on p. A12. In my paper, which is probably the midwest edition, the title was as cited in the main citation above, and appeared on pp. A1 and A8.)

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