BEIRUT: It’s very hot in Beirut these days. In fact, it doesn’t get much hotter. Average temperatures are peaking at 32 degrees Celsius for July and an average humidity level of 50 percent can make you break a sweat just by walking out the door. It reached a sweltering 36 degrees on July 2 – the hottest day of the year so far – according to the Civil Aviation Department at the Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Average temperatures have been slightly higher than in the past. The monthly high for July usually varies between 30 and 35 degrees, making this July a degree hotter than usual so far. It’s also not due to cool down anytime soon, with average temperatures expected to stay in the 30s well into August.
These high temperatures have driven Lebanese and tourists to run their air conditioners in an attemptto beat the heat. Unfortunately, combating the heat with electricity- and fuel-powered cooling units can have a detrimental effect on the environment and make it even hotter.
Environment expert Wilson Rizk said global warming has seen temperatures rising worldwide, and underlined Lebanon as an example where “the environment is not respected.”
Air conditioning units emit carbon dioxide, a gas which is responsiblefor rising global temperatures in a process called the greenhouse effect. People’s solution to beating the heat, namely by using electricity to operate cooling units, releases further carbon dioxide and increases the greenhouse effect.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way, according to Wael Hmaidan, executive director of the environmental activist organization IndyAct. He explained that there were many other ways to stay cool during the summer while still remaining environmentally friendly.
Hmaidan suggested looking back at history to see how generations lived before the advent of electricity and air-conditioning, considering anything from air currents to the side of the house facing away from the sun.
He emphasized the way past generations would control the temperatures in their homes with clever house designs and innovative city planning.
“The way they would control the temperature in the house and the way they built the house. High ceilings are a very good way to reduce temperatures in hot weather,” he stressed. Rooms with high ceilings offer cooler living spaces because hot air will rise to the top leaving the cooler air closer to the ground.
Isolating air-conditioned rooms so people do not try to cool the entire house at once was another technique suggested by Hmaidan to control the amount of carbon dioxide emitted.
He also suggested using air conditioning sparingly. “We don’t need to put the air-conditioning on 16 degrees; 22 or 23 degrees is enough, it makes a difference in how much electricity we use by changing the temperature, and saves a lot of money at the same time,” said Hmaidan
“Its important for people to remember one thing: air conditioning will cause an increase in heat globally, causing more hot weather, and [consequently] more need for air conditioning.”
The summer heat is also bad for business, as many Lebanese head out of the city on vacations.
George Makhlouf, owner of G. Makhlouf juice shop in Gemmayzeh, said the heat even affects businesses that sell cold drinks. “Usually it gets so hot people just stay in; usually in the summer they go up to the mountains and don’t stay in the city.”