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Why heaters are the future of cooling

A huge number of people still heat their homes with fossil fuels. There’s a better way.

Christophe Haubursin is a senior producer for the Vox video team. Since joining the team in 2016, he has produced for Vox’s YouTube channel and Emmy-nominated shows Glad You Asked and Explained.

Experts call it the “cold crunch.” As temperatures rise in regions that historically haven’t needed indoor cooling, global demand for air-conditioning units is expected to skyrocket. Indoor cooling is already the fastest-growing use of energy in buildings. But the emissions associated with cooling buildings are tiny compared to those from heating buildings — and that’s because our heat is still largely generated by burning fossil fuels while air-conditioning uses electricity.

The way we heat our homes and buildings is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. But a solution may actually come from the rush of consumers looking to buy AC for the first time. They’re a huge market for a different kind of system: the electric heat pump. A heat pump works like a two-way air conditioner, using electricity and a chemical refrigerant to transfer heat either into or out of a building. Instead of using fossil fuels to generate heat, it uses electricity to transfer heat, and it does it efficiently. And if heat pumps are widely adopted, they could make a major impact on the carbon emissions generated by buildings.

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