Air-conditioning at all cost: Exclusionary consumption patterns in Metro Manila

The only solution put forward by Meralco to make the expansion of its distribution grid in poor areas profitable is the implementation of a prepaid service system to avoid late payments. Prepaid electricity is presented as a social measure allowing households to monitor their consumption levels in order to save money while reducing the city’s alarming consumption rate. Yet, it mainly results in telling the poor to use less when the rich, whose contribution to the city’s carbon footprint is far bigger, maintain highly energy-consuming ways of life without any significant disincentive from the state.

In Metro Manila, despite hot weather outside throughout the year, it is common to be very cold in offices, private residences, taxis or buses. Indeed, air-conditioning serves as an indicator of social status. Unreasonably cooling down its environment enables the upper class to showcase cold weather Western clothes (Sahakian, 2010). Air-conditioning also stems from security concerns: it reflects a desire from those who can afford it to keep windows closed and isolate from the city’s polluted air and dangerous criminals, which are increasingly diabolized by President Duterte.

Air-conditioning is an increasingly crucial issue in tropical countries as a whole.
Source: Katili, A. & Boukhanouf, R. & Wilson, Robin (2015)

Few policies provide incentives for the upper class to reduce its energy consumption. In view of the numerous construction works currently underway, strong enforcement of obligatory mandatory green building regulations could significantly impact the city’s ecological footprint in coming years. But as shown previously through the example of SM Mall, sustainability is mainly a marketing strategy of “green-outing”.

Manila stands at the forefront of disaster risk in the world. If it ambitions to efficiently tackle climate change, it will have to consider coherently coordinating the battle against carbon emissions and the struggle against class disparities.

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Resources used:

Featured image: Eco-Business Research. (2018). Freezing in the tropics. The ASEAN Air-con Conundrum. Retrived from:

Katili, A. & Boukhanouf, R. & Wilson, Robin. (2015). Space Cooling in Buildings in Hot and Humid Climates – a Review of the Effect of Humidity on the Applicability of Existing Cooling Techniques.

Sahakian, M. D. (2001). Understanding household energy consumption patterns: When « West is Best » in Metro Manilla. Energy Policy 39, 596-602.

Valdez (2017). The Benefits of Going Prepaid. Corporate partners. Retrieved from:

One thought on “Air-conditioning at all cost: Exclusionary consumption patterns in Metro Manila

  1. Great post! Once again I see a lot of parallels with air-con urbanism in Hong Kong. In my experience working there, I had to pack a jumper in my bag whenever I went anywhere, because I would get very hot walking around the streets and then be plunged into an office air-conditioned to maybe 18-19 degrees Celsius. It is so counter-intuitive to see such a wasteful use of energy when it hardly even seems to benefit the occupants of buildings. You raise such an interesting point about such cold temperatures allowing occupants of these elite spaces to wear ‘stylish’ clothes designed for cooler climates. This even makes me reflect on the whole concept of business attire; office-workers all around the world are expected to come to work in a suit and tie, and yet walking outside in a suit in Manila or Hong Kong is almost unbearable. Thanks for your insight on this matter, it helps to show that even the clothes we wear reflect the politics, social norms and environmental dynamics of the cities we live in.


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