The Refrigeration Apocalypse: What Would Happen if Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Disappeared?

refrigeration apocalypse

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Ever enjoyed a cold beer at a hockey game?

Escaped a sweltering summer day by staying indoors with the A/C on full blast?

Taken antibiotics for a nasty infection?

Had surgery for a sports injury?

Imagine if you could never do any of these things again.

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Without the science of refrigeration and HVAC/R technicians to put it to work, these modern conveniences and life-saving innovations wouldn’t be possible. Refrigeration and air conditioning play a bigger role in your life than you might think.

What if they suddenly just disappeared?

the refrigeration apocalypse

The Vital Role of HVAC/R

Just how important is air conditioning and refrigeration? The facts say it all:

  • There is a refrigerator in almost every single home in the United States.
  • Many homes (23 percent) have two or more refrigerators.
  • Over 75 percent of American homes have an air conditioner.
  • Air conditioning accounts for a total of 6 percent of all the electricity used across the country.

What happens when the A/C suddenly goes out or the refrigerator runs hot? HVAC/R technicians come to the rescue, repairing or replacing parts or entire systems.

But what if there were no HVAC/R techs—or even refrigeration or air conditioning? What if these technologies and the professionals who maintain them one day suddenly disappeared?

Turning up the Heat: Timeline of a World Suddenly Without Refrigeration

The effects of refrigeration and air conditioning vanishing would be felt almost immediately, and they’d intensify as the hours, days and months pass. After one year, the world as you know it would be very grim.

2 Hours Without Refrigeration

Perishable Foods Spoil

That steak you just bought? Bad.

The milk for your kids’ morning cereal? Spoiled.

After just 2 hours without refrigeration, bacteria in these and other types of perishable foods start multiplying to harmful levels.

Refrigerated foods in every home, grocery store and warehouse across the country start to rot. About 1.3 billion pounds of dairy goods stored in commercial refrigeration units go bad. Billions of dollars’ worth of food ends up in dumpsters.

24 Hours Without Refrigeration

Most of the Internet Goes Out

Need to update your Facebook status?

Google information about that new car you’re considering buying?

Order some running shoes on Amazon?

You’d better do it all within the first 24 hours after saying goodbye to air conditioning.

Major websites rely on computer room air conditioners (CRACs) to keep their massive data centers containing hundreds of thousands of servers cool and working properly.

Winter Sports Require Real Ice and Snow

Just one day after the end of refrigeration, artificially frozen ice hockey and ice skating rinks melt. You’ll have to wait until they freeze back up on the coldest of winter days to strap on your skates again.

2 Days Without Refrigeration

Food Becomes Scarce at Supermarkets

Do you like crackers? Good. That’s all you’ll find on supermarket shelves after only 2 days.

No more fruit from California or beef from Texas. You can kiss that corn from Iowa goodbye. And frozen dinners and ice cream—don’t even think about them.

Dry goods and locally grown produce are all that will be left at your corner market.

1 Week Without Refrigeration

The Price of Fresh Flowers Skyrockets

You might want to consider sending potted plants to your partner on Valentine’s Day. Without refrigeration, florists can’t keep flowers fresh. A bouquet of roses will cost you a pretty penny.

All SpaceX Rockets Stay Grounded

It’s not just astronauts who advance space exploration. HVAC/R techs play an important role, too. Along with HVAC/R engineers, they use and maintain the equipment that’s needed to load and condition rocket propellant 6.

Indoor climate control is crucial to counter the extremes of hot and cold found in space. Temperature control is also important for getting rockets off the ground. Without it, SpaceX 9 wouldn’t be able to launch past the atmosphere.

Read more about why climate control is necessary in space.

1 Month Without Refrigeration

Supplies of Life-Saving Medicines Shrink or Spoil

A world without refrigeration could have dire consequences for diabetics.

Unless kept cold, insulin loses its medical properties after as few as 28 days. Without it, diabetics could quickly become extremely ill or even slip into a coma.

Strep throat and other bacterial infections would spiral from painful nuisances to serious medical conditions because pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t be able to make new antibiotics. The Freeze-drying process behind these common medications would become unsustainable.

Read more about “The Role of HVAC/R in Modern Medicine.”

Hospital Death Rates Rise

A hospital is the last place you’d want to be when the refrigeration apocalypse hits.

Even if you went in healthy, you’d start having headaches and feeling fatigued after a short time because sick building syndrome (SBS) would set in without air conditioning. HVAC/R systems help maintain indoor air quality in medical facilities.

Patients on operating tables would fair far worse. The rate of infection and hyperthermia would climb, claiming lives along the way.

Gasoline Prices Soar

Getting to work could eat up earnings as your pay more for gas.

Oil refinery plants chill gas streams to improve efficiency. In the absence of refrigeration technologies, they would produce less gas. Limited supply spells higher prices at the pump.

6 Months Without Refrigeration

Lager Beer Nearly Disappears

No more ice-cold beer at your next summer barbeque. Baseball games will never be the same.

Before artificial cooling, the brown, bubbly stuff was flat and warm. Brewed at around 50 °F, lager beers couldn’t be produced year-round until refrigeration was invented in the 19th century. Popular brands like Coors Light and Budweiser would be hard to come by.

Stores Stop Carrying Smartphones

That gadget that never leaves your sight would soon become a modern relic.

Smartphone manufacturing plants rely on air conditioning to keep the “clean rooms” where information processing microchips are made cool. When the temperatures rise, so does static electricity.

1 Year Without Refrigeration

Southern Cities Become Ghost Towns

Real estate prices in cities like sunny Phoenix, Arizona, and other Sun Belt states plummet as people flee to cooler locales.

As air conditioning became more widely available, the national population in the Sun Belt grew from 28 percent in 1950 to 40 percent in 2000. Without it, moving becomes a matter of life and death for the elderly and those at risk for heat stroke.

The Cost of Clothing Goes Up

Expect to pay more for that button-down shirt and slacks you need for dates and job interviews.

Air conditioning in textile mills keeps cotton and fabrics in prime condition. In the absence of indoor climate control, producing quality clothing becomes more expensive, and the cost is passed onto customers.

HVAC/R Technicians to the Rescue

HVAC/R equipment doesn’t just keep us all comfortable, it also keeps us healthy and helps us function in everyday life.

But like any machine, these units break down and need to be replaced. That’s why HVAC/R technicians are just as important as the technologies to preventing the refrigeration apocalypse.

Discover more about this exciting career path by checking out our Refrigeration Technologies training program.

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