Unlike Pope Francis, I believe that air-conditioning and the capitalists responsible for the technology are blessings to the world.
Perhaps the head of the Catholic Church, who condemned “the increasing use and power of air-conditioning” last week in a market-bashing encyclical, is unaware of the pioneering private company that has donated its time, energy, and innovative heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning equipment to the Vatican’s most famous edifice for more than a decade.
That’s right. While the pontiff sanctimoniously attacks “those who are obsessed with maximizing profits,” Carrier Corporation — a $13 billion for-profit company with 43,000 employees worldwide (now a unit of U.S.-based United Technologies Corp.) — ensures that the air in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel stays clean and cool.
Last fall, Carrier unveiled a groundbreaking HVAC system for the Vatican to help preserve Michelangelo’s masterpieces against pollution caused by the estimated six million visitors who descend on the Sistine Chapel every year to see its famous frescoes.
As the company described it, their new solution “uses two Carrier AquaForce(r) 30XWV water-cooled chillers with Greenspeed(r) intelligence, each with 580 kilowatts of capacity. It leverages specially designed software and components, as well as patented, energy-saving technologies to maintain optimal climate conditions for the protection of the paintings within the chapel.” State-of-the-art intelligent controls “anticipate visitor levels and adjust its performance intuitively.” It also “delivers twice the efficiency and three times the capacity of the former system, which was built and installed by Carrier in the early 1990s.”
Here’s the lesson about air-conditioning capitalists that Pope Francis fails to appreciate: Carrier’s technological know-how and breakthroughs didn’t just descend from the clouds. As I recount in my latest book, “Who Built That,” every perfectly chilled home, office, movie theater, mall, factory, hospital, lab, and museum owes its existence to the profit-seeking pioneers of manufactured weather: Willis Carrier and Irvine Lyle.
These early 20th-century inventive giants brought air-conditioning to the market and to the masses. Willis Carrier was the scientist-tinkerpreneur whose prolific stream of experiments and epiphanies, beginning in 1902, fueled historic technological advances in heating, refrigeration, and air-conditioning. Irvine Lyle was the mechanical engineer-turned-salesman who imagined countless new commercial applications for Carrier’s work — and successfully turned those ideas into a multibillion-dollar business through relentless promotion, pitches, networking, advertising, and outreach.
The scientists and their core team begged, borrowed, and made stock sales to friends and neighbors. Carrier even enlisted his dentist for cash to get Carrier Engineering Corporation up and running in 1915. Carrier, Lyle, and five founding engineers together pitched in $32,600 in start-up funds.
The Carrier capitalists risked it all in defiance of an economic depression and amid the tumult of world war. They couldn’t afford their own factory and scrounged for made-to-order parts wherever they could find them. They dug into their own pockets to cover salary shortfalls. The wealth wasn’t handed to them. Carrier and Lyle, farm boys who both graduated from Cornell, drove their men hard and themselves harder.
The Carrier team sold its products to businesses, large and small, that spanned the spectrum of human needs and wants. The pope should know that in addition to sparing countless lives from death by heat wave, Carrier designed a special system for Jonas Salk that helped maintain constant temperatures in the vats where Salk’s poliovirus strains grew. The Salk vaccine saved thousands of lives and spearheaded the vaccine revolution.
From Hollywood to the pharmaceutical industry to textiles to the retail industry to the military to homeowners, there isn’t a sector of the American economy that Carrier and Lyle didn’t help transform. Their zealous focus on helping businesses provide better products at cheaper costs resulted in the invaluable byproducts of increased health, comfort, and happiness.
While the pope blames commercial enterprises and the “global market economy” for causing “environmental degradation,” it is a worldwide commercial enterprise made in America that solved the human-caused degradation of, and environmental damage to, the Vatican’s most prized art and assets.
If the pontiff truly believes “excessive consumption” of modern conveniences is causing evil “climate change,” will he be shutting down and returning the multimillion-dollar system Carrier generously gifted to the Vatican Museums?
If not, I suggest, with all due respect, that Pope Francis do humanity a favor and refrain from blowing any more hot air unless he’s willing to stew in his own.
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