A heat wave has blanketed much of the nation today, but if you’re surfing the Internet, chances are you’re indoors enjoying a cold blast of air conditioning. Many Americans, such as the elderly, or those residing in desert climates, literally could not live without it. But should we be using as much AC as we do?
Stan Cox has written a book titled “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer),” that calls us Americans out on our energy-hogging ways. Salon’s Ryan Brown interviewed Cox, and reports that, “Nine out of 10 new homes in this country are built with central air conditioning, and Americans now use as much electricity to power our A.C. as the entire continent of Africa uses for, well, everything.”
Cox confirms what I have long suspected to be true: that our overuse of AC is actually heating up the planet, thus requiring us to use more AC. Ironic that cooling should cause warming, but it’s a vicious cycle that harms us in more ways than one. Brown says, “We stay inside longer, exercise less, and get sick more often” as a result of the often arctic blasts pumped into office buildings and public transport. If you’re like me, you think it’s just plain wrong to have to carry a sweater with you on a 95 degree day in order to navigate the freezing tundra of overly cooled public spaces. Do restaurants, theatres and shops really have to run cooling systems from April to November?
Cox says “our biological tolerance for the heat is eroded if we spend almost all of our time in climate-controlled bubbles. And it’s suspected of being a factor in weight gain because we tend to eat more when we’re in cool conditions.” Maybe that’s why Chili’s feels less like summer in Mexico and more like Maine at Christmas.
My mother recently told me a story about a man she used to work with who chastised her for complaining about the heat. He said, “Hot weather is not the problem. It’s having to work in hot weather that’s the problem. You’d like the heat if you were rich enough to enjoy it on a boat or at the beach.” Cox echoes that sentiment in an anecdote about life at his AC-free home in Kansas. He says, “A couple of weekends ago… I was in my living room with the ceiling fan going, and I thought, man, it’s really nice in here, so I went and got a thermometer, and it was 84 in the living room… Warmth in and of itself is not bad at all. It can even be quite enjoyable.”
Cox says the cold, hard truth is that “people could give up refrigerators or stoves or drive 9,000 miles less a year or stop using electric lighting, but none of those things would cut emissions as much as eliminating air conditioning.”
I spent the holiday weekend at my mother’s house in Central New York – without air conditioning. Granted, she has a swimming pool, which certainly helps beat the heat, but to keep cool indoors we created a cross-breeze by opening doors on either side of the house. Additionally, she has a ceiling fan in the kitchen and runs small fans in the bedrooms at night. It reminded me of being a kid, experiencing the sticky sweetness of summer, little drips of sweat letting me know I’m alive.