The Case Against A/C?

Stan Cox makes a provocative argument against air conditioning in Washington, D.C.  (He’s plugging a new book on the topic.)  Now this might be a bad time to consider ditching the old A/C, especially for you easterners who “enjoy” suffocating humidity all summer long and have recently suffered through a spate of 100-degree-plus days.  But I think it’s something we should talk about.  I can say with smug (if slightly sweaty) satisfaction that this is what summer at El Rancho Historiann looks like:

Families unplug as many heat-generating appliances as possible. Forget clothes dryers –post-A.C. neighborhoods are crisscrossed with clotheslines. The hot stove is abandoned for the grill, and dinner is eaten on the porch.

Line drying in such a dry climate makes my clean towels look and feel like something a dog chewed up and spit back out–but I’ll make the sacrifice!  Because my house is literally a one-story ranch house with large overhanging eaves, the inside of the house stays at least 20 degrees cooler than the outside.  A strategic use of shades on the South- and West-facing windows helps a lot, too.  We have a bedroom in the basement, in which we could sleep in an emergency since it’s always cool.  But, that hasn’t happened in 8-1/2 summers, so far.  Plus, it’s only really hot one month of the year out here–in July.

At the very least, I think Cox asks a good question:  why shouldn’t we consider shutting down a city in an extreme heat wave, just as we do when snow and ice storms make travel impossible?  We’d at least avoid having to air condition most workplaces and homes, and the absence of commuting would also save fossil fuels.  We westerners should really take the lead on taking out the air conditioning, since aridity is on our side.  Plus, those of us at altitude benefit from 30- to 40-degree swings in temperature from daytime highs to nighttime lows, so opening up the house after 7 p.m. to let in the cool night air makes a big difference.

Even as I sit here smugly with my dog-chewed towels, I look back on a not-so-distant past in which I had a much smaller carbon footprint, mostly due to personal poverty.  Back in graduate school/medical school days, I took trains instead of planes for intercity travel, and I didn’t have my own washer/dryer or dishwasher.  I also didn’t own a car for most of that period–I hoofed it for everything.  When I moved in with Fratguy, we had an apartment in Baltimore–Baltimore!!!–without A/C!  I will confess that that summer, when the temperature in our apartment was 81 degrees at 7 a.m. one day in early July, I bought a window unit so that we could have a cool bedroom.  (As I recall, we used to eat dinner and even entertain in that bedroom, simply because it was our only refuge.)  When we moved to Boston the following summer, we took an apartment that didn’t have a refrigerator, so we stacked two tiny dorm fridges on top of one another and made do.  (We had a screened-in porch that year that doubled as a gigantic extra refrigerator after mid-November.)

Cox makes another point about the benefits of ditching A/C–maybe people would go outside and connect again with each other.  If you and a number of your neighbors skip the A/C, think of other benefits for your town:  movie theaters would be thrilled to have your business during hot days and evenings, and think of the spike in popularity the public libraries and swimming pools might enjoy!  To what extent is air conditioning responsible for the decline in civic spirit and civility in the past forty years?  Maybe people would be more willing to pay taxes to support their local parks, pools, and recreation centers if they were more popular.

0 thoughts on “The Case Against A/C?

  1. Someone might have mentioned this already–I didn’t read all of the comments–but it’s very easy to live without air conditioning in the SE. Be poor. Or even just lower middle class. I lived in Knoxville, TN and Richmond, VA–both very hot and humid places with summer temps topping 100 for weeks at a time–without AC because we couldn’t afford apartments with AC. When it got too hot we went to the free museums, the library, $1 movies, grocery stores–whatever. We also lived in old buildings that were designed to allow breezes. But this issue has a major class/wealth component to it.

    And wasn’t the pre-AC solution to summer heat in the South to work in the morning and late afternoon/evening and not work at the hottest part of the day? Isn’t this part of where the lazy Southerner stereotype comes from (sitting on the porch drinkin’ lemonade instead of doing work)?

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  2. The article is thought provoking and this discussion provides lots of good thoughts about and using air conditioning in such a way that minimizes its impact on the environment, body, and lifestyle. However, the repeated argument (by some) that air conditioning is just another first world attempt to regulate/tame one’s environment to maximize personal comfort or productivity at any cost seems to me a rather narrow view. Not to mention the notion that AC is of course not necessary just because all the poor people on the planet live without it, and because people in this country lived without it not that long ago… so can the same be said of antibiotics and seat-belts and countless other inventions.

    I grew up poor, in a large family, in small houses with no AC. Summertime without AC in many places doesn’t put you in touch with your body, or your community. It just sucks. It makes you irritable (and, yes, more prone to losing your temper or becoming violent), it makes you feel sick, and it makes it darn difficult for you to concentrate on higher order things given the amount of effort and mind-space you must dedicate to the physical state of your body. Windows are great, but my non-AC owning friend was raped and murdered after leaving a window open at night during a heat wave (and much as I hate to make decisions based on anecdotal evidence, I will never sleep with an open window again).

    Maybe it’s because I’m now bourgy, but I absolutely consider the AC units in my house in DC a nonluxury. And I feel no need to define luxury against the poorest of the poor in the developing world, either– it is endlessly relative. I’m not going to reconsider the value of my access to electricity, the Internet, hot water, clean water, medicine, birth control, breast pumps and/formula, and, yes, AC, among many, many other things (all of which have associated gains and losses, and all of which can be said to serve to ‘remove’ us from the natural experience of our bodies and environments) because these things serve my ability to keep rising up the hierarchy of needs. But I would like to think that I am thoughtful about the my use patterns and their consequences.

    Do giant centrally cooled McMansions suck? Do office windows that don’t open and summertime cubicle temps that require a sweater suck? Does never opening the windows in your house suck? Does not thinking at all about how you are controlling your residential climate suck? I say yes. But there are a lot of responses to this post that are so ridic that I just have to chime in and throw a side eye their way.

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  3. Are there architectural/planning approaches to hot climates that don’t cost a lot in terms of energy or personal financial resources? Tree of Knowledge says we’ve already got them, but I’m a bit skeptical (do those cool public places literally have room for everybody in the lower half of the income distribution?); jlt’s comment is more in line with my sense that the poor just suffer more. But it’s a matter of some urgency to work toward a way of living that works for everybody without massive resource consumption….

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  4. Where I live it was over 100 degrees for 60 days straight last summer. I don’t really care if this area of the country was uninhabitable until the advent of AC, because I have a tenure track appointment at this university. I’m expected to produce during the summer, and that means when I’m at home the AC is set to 80 degrees, rain or shine.

    That said, I never had central air until I moved here. It is certainly possible to do without it in most of the places I’ve lived in US, above and below the mason dixon line, east and west of the Mississippi.

    One small comment though: central air is massively more efficient than a window unit. It is also easier to control the temperature effectively with central air, no hot/cold cycles. Window units are SO MUCH less energy efficient than central air.

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  5. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi without air conditioning. Here are some things that help:

    1)high ceilings
    2)fans
    3)screened porches

    Aiming a fan at yourself at night also keeps away the mosquitoes.

    You also appreciate the cooler days when they inevitably come much more without air conditioning.

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  6. On this class point that jlt and Tree of Knowledge raise, I’ve blogged about it over at my place b/c I do think there is an incredible amount of privilege abounding in a conversation about whether people should take on more suffering than necessary.

    Also, jlt, you hit the nail on the head with this: Summertime without AC in many places doesn’t put you in touch with your body, or your community. It just sucks. It makes you irritable (and, yes, more prone to losing your temper or becoming violent), it makes you feel sick, and it makes it darn difficult for you to concentrate on higher order things given the amount of effort and mind-space you must dedicate to the physical state of your body.

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  7. JackDanielsBlack’s prescriptions sound right, but I would note (as several others have done) that 1) and 3) cost space, i.e., real money.

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  8. Oh hell no. I’m about to move somewhere and I have been watching the weather reports for my new place, and you can pry my AC from my cold, dead hands.

    I don’t have air conditioning or even fans here in CA, and I grew up in the southwest with a “swamp cooler” in Ariz and a window unit in NM, but those are just such qualitatively different environments. If it’s still going to be over 80 and 100% humidity outside at midnight, I’m not going to get any sleep!

    And if we get rid of —- or even cut back on — AC you are all going to have to give up the internet. Do you know how hot a room full of servers gets, even a small one? And how much energy you have to spend cooling all those servers? Not the big ones at Cox or Google, either — you pretty much need central air if your small business has a server and three or four computers. Now I think office spaces and stores could cut back a whole lot on air conditioning and design their spaces a lot better, but that’s different

    (My pet peeve is how all the stores around here have their air blasting and the glass doors to the street wide open. Rrrr! We should redesign all the big box stores and shops to have a double entrance like I saw all over Chicago, so you can let one set of doors close before the other opens and all the cold air doesn’t get sucked right out.)

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  9. Good discussion. Yes, all solutions to the problem of heat and humidity cost something–they all cost money, and/or short- or long-term damage to the environment. And all of our solutions to taming our individual environments cost us money–whether we choose to go with central A/C, or with high ceilings, fans/swamp coolers, and/or porches and lemonade. As New Kid (and others) upthread have suggested, turning off the A/C isn’t as easy for people who don’t have cool porches and safe neighborhoods.

    Joe’s comments about the South are interesting, and give further proof of how dramatically our built environments and our work expectations have altered in response to the introduction of A/C.

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  10. I think the argument about AC being a necessity or a luxury misses the point. I would argue that it’s neither. Not having AC sucks, but it’s not a necessity. We are all capable of adjusting our lives to live without AC if we didn’t have it (which was what I was trying to say before–to use AC or not isn’t a choice for a lot of people). It’s also not a luxury, and I’m grateful for the public places I can go that have AC (and if they didn’t exist, I’d spend more time in parks with trees). AC makes life easier, more comfortable, and more tolerable. But it is a modern convenience that many people take for granted (I imagine most people think about cost, but a lot of energy and natural resources–coal and nuclear–go into cooling homes too). While Cox’s article does romanticize a bit, he does seem to be making the point that it is possible to live without AC provided we change our lifestyle to accommodate the heat. Someone already made the point of moderate use–use it when you need it and not when you don’t. But we seem to have very different ideas of when that would be.

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  11. Whenever there’s a discussion about a purportedly unnecessary modern convenience that deprives us of the simplicity of an earlier time and robs us of our connection with the natural environment, I’m always interested in who benefits most from the innovation. And sure enough: women are more susceptible (even controlled for age) to heat-related death than men, and are also possibly less tolerant of heat in general.

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  12. To concede a point, Sisyphus is spot on about servers and such. AC is necessary for climate controlled technology. But plenty of businesses overuse the AC. I don’t think people and businesses should get rid of AC. I just think it should be used responsibly and that a lot of us–myself included when I had AC–rationalize unnecessary use.

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  13. Yes to all the suggestions about hanging clothes out (if you have clotheslines), keeping the AC at an energy-saving temperature, turning it off when it’s not necessary, etc. Open the windows most of the time, including at night, and use fans–check. Dog-chewed (or emery-board-like) towels? Check.

    But what is all this magic Disney talk that Cox gives us about movies, public libraries, sitting out to see the neighbors, and eating ice cream? Don’t we work in the summer? If we did what people accuse academics of doing–taking a 3-month vacation and lying on the hammock the whole time–then I’m with you on the no AC, but above a certain indoor temperature my brain just quits.

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  14. I will also admit to a little eye-roll when I find out that these men adopting various deprivations and writing books about it are married. I mean, I’m sure some of their wives are really excited about giving up air conditioning and, in the case of No Impact Man, tampons, but they don’t even get a book deal out of it.

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  15. I didn’t read Cox’s comments (though romantic) as Disneyfied. He’s talking about leisure time, which would not increase substantially (but perhaps modestly) if hot places changed their expectations for work in the summer. (Others have suggested siestas, etc.)

    I think there’s an argument to be made that central A/C in a lot of places fosters isolation.

    As for the dog chewed/emery board towels: think of all of the effortless exfoliation! Our skin will be glowing, and not just because we’re sweatier!

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  16. Wow, this topic has created some heat.

    Perhaps when people don’t sweat they don’t do much but leisure like things. This past month I was in a very humid and hot place and I only wanted to work outside, mow grass, trim the sidewalks etc. I felt better physically than I have in a long time. Of course I had to drink a lot of good ol’ fashion southern iced tea but, we must endure. I also found myself wanting to talk to the neighbors about their fences, trees, lawn, and cats and dogs. When I am home, where we don’t have AC because we do not need it, I never want to go outside. I just want to read books, drink warm tea and surf the web, sometimes to the detriment of my physical activity.

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  17. Good time for this post, as the unusually cool weather in Grit City finally broke today, and we had our first “hot” day. Stupidly, I picked 4 p.m. as my ride-to-work time.

    I went to grad school in a place where summers were hot and humid, and I can tell you that one of the disadvantages to profligate use of AC is the dreaded summer cold, which seems to correlate with constant shifts from 100 and humid outdoors to icy-cold indoors.

    (Of course, I might not have survived my attic studio without it — you can only do so much with a washcloth and a bowl of ice water.)

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  18. I’m pretty fascinated by this discussion and the different passions it has elicited. It speaks to so many different issues…

    I’m interested in the question of luxury versus necessity here, and how one becomes the other… I’m not opposed to a/c in all circumstances: it’s not like I don’t appreciate an a/c restaurant or other public place once in a while. But the unthinking reliance upon centrally air-conditioned homes for months at a time, regardless of whether it’s 100 degrees out or 80, strikes me as an irresponsible use.

    I’m interested in the issue of privilege, and how it seems to be working in two directions in this discussion. Some here have characterized my position as a privileged or elitist one, whereas I regard insistence on central a/c as an assertion of privilege. That’s kinda fascinating, when you think about it.

    Left out of the discussion has been the fact that the US has 4% of the world’s population and uses 25% of its energy. And no, it’s not just very poor countries that live without a/c: most of Europe does, including the southern climes. Having spent a lot of time in India, I can honestly say that there should be more a/c there in certain times and places (even I got uncomfortable during the hot season, when it was 114 degrees for two weeks straight; though I don’t particularly mind low 100s).

    Finally, I’m also intrigued by the question of what kinds of activities are made possible thru a/c. I see a lot of people defending a/c in the interests of greater productivity and ability to work. I found myself compelled, by contrast, by Cox’s notion of slowing down in summer. While that ethos is unlikely ever to take hold in the US, I find it far more appealing than justifying a/c for greater work productivity. But maybe I’m just a bit of a slacker: publishing the most possible has never been my goal.

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  19. Where privilege comes in, as I see it, is when the conversation veers away from practical questions (is it hot enough for long enough to require AC? will people die without it? is it safe for people to be spending time outside in their neighborhood or to have windows on the first floor open? can I afford it? what is the environmental cost?) to moral ones in which suffering is put on a higher plane. It’s really fantasy to think that sweating away profusely for three months out of the year makes one a better person more connected to their body and to the community and it’s a conversation nobody else is having except people who have the financial means to do either. (And let’s not forget that the movie theater is expensive these days.)

    I too have spent some time in a tropical country, where incidentally air conditioning is rare outside certain government buildings but isn’t utterly unusual, and nobody there waxes eloquent about their connection to the community. It’s a fact of life: it’s hot and they do their best, frequently by having a slower pace of life and by having homes that are more conducive to keeping air flowing. But that’s it. No moral arguments are made. (And we’re also being naive if we think the US is going to back away from its work obsession just because it’s hot.)

    If individuals don’t have air conditioning, fine. If they don’t want air conditioning, fine. If they can’t afford it, fine. But the privilege is in turning one’s dislike of something into a point of moral superiority, especially in a situation where the point of superiority is being able to handle more suffering than another and then leads to encouraging others to heap more suffering on themselves.

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  20. Wow, people sure did talk.

    I’ve had a new realization: you have to have your whole region working on the same system. Part of the reason I use a/c at home – and I have central air on low, May 1-October 1, 24/7, this is the most efficient way of doing it I’ve discovered, after much experimentation – is that they have it everywhere else, and I’ve found I have to have some consistency or I get kind of incoherent.

    On the other hand, I wrote my dissertation in a tropical country, no a/c anywhere except in the one international phoning station I knew of and in the Goethe Institute. I’d go to that Goethe Institute on days when I was really tired or something, and wanted a cool break, but otherwise one practiced the old fashioned things – fans, open windows, shaded porches, water from the refrigerator, and so on.

    It was so hot there that hot water heaters didn’t exist most places: water would heat up in the pipes, and people with pipes on the outsides of their buildings would complain about not being able to get their showers cold enough! I learned not to tense up just because I was sweaty, or in other words, to take that as the default condition and not to think I should be dry. That way, I could think perfectly clearly and write.

    But I think this was only possible because all buildings were that way, it was that way to sit in class, to ride on the bus, etc., so you didn’t have to keep shifting climates (and layers of clothing) as you do where I am now.

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  21. @frogprincess, I agree about the privilege thing but the question is: there’s that gusher in the Gulf, in addition to global warming, and it’s pretty obvious we have to cut down on electricity and transportation. So the question of how much one can cut voluntarily, or what the workarounds would be, is partly a practical one, at least as I experience it.

    I have a related topic, of course: incandescent light bulbs and good lighting generally. We must go to low wattage, and to those flourescent eco-bulbs, and I have done so partly, but this is hard for me. It’s also hard to remember to keep all appliances unplugged. I favor doing these things not so as to suffer more, which I really don’t want to do, but because we really, really need to cut down. Lots of countries have and are.

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  22. “Where privilege comes in, as I see it, is when the conversation veers away from practical questions (is it hot enough for long enough to require AC? will people die without it? is it safe for people to be spending time outside in their neighborhood or to have windows on the first floor open? can I afford it? what is the environmental cost?) to moral ones in which suffering is put on a higher plane. It’s really fantasy to think that sweating away profusely for three months out of the year makes one a better person more connected to their body and to the community and it’s a conversation nobody else is having except people who have the financial means to do either.

    Clearly, no one in this thread is pro-suffering! Who said that suffering made hir a more moral or superior person? I didn’t see that in the comments here, and I don’t think it’s in Cox’s article or my post. (Did you think my jokes about being sweaty or using rough towels indicate that I think I’m *suffering*? If so, humor fail.)

    I thought that Cox made an interesting argument that urges us to reflect on how a technology has changed our built environment, our work lives, and our relationship with our neighborhoods & communities. That’s a good question for a history blog, and that’s what I wanted to talk about.

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  23. “While that ethos [slowing down] is unlikely ever to take hold in the US, I find it far more appealing than justifying a/c for greater work productivity.”

    Yes, me too, but the thing is that if you’re an academic in a hot place then you have to keep pace with the rest of the country and possibly world.

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  24. You know, I forgot that we got the window unit for downstairs after we got broken into through an open (but screened) window. The thief stuck his fingers through the screen to undue the latches and lift the screen and then the window…. while we were home. My daughter is still freaked by it years later.

    Actually, right now my dishwasher is out and I’m finding that we generate an awful lot of dishes as a family of 5, even eating on paper plates at some meals to cut down on our dish load. I’m cashing in my “I didn’t have a car for 6 years karma for these two weeks of dishwasherlessness.

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  25. I think one of the points about privilege is that a lot of poorer people don’t lack air condition because they realize that it’s some kind of selfish bourgeois affectation – they lack it because it’s not available to them. I strongly suspect that a large percentage of people both in the USA and other countries who lack air conditioning would jump at the opportunity to have it if they could afford it or if it was more widely available.

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  26. I’m with those who say that you can pry my a/c from my cold dead hands. When it’s 100 degrees and up, I feel sick, I can’t think, and I certainly can’t wear clothes (which precludes going outside, where it is, in any case, just as hot as inside, but more filled with biting, stinging insects). Whoever said a fan will keep mosquitoes off has never lived in a mosquito-infested area.

    I would move somewhere else, but I have a T-T job here, so you can eff right off if you think I can write during the summer with only fans and icewater. Plus, all that architecture stuff? High ceilings? That SUCKS in the winter. In the winter you want low ceilings. There’s no good architecture for a place with 4 seasons.

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  27. Geez, late to the discussion. As a career HVAC guy, and veteran of Austin, Texas – whose heat indexes compete with the worst of the country save New Orleans – I have to agree with the “haters.”

    People did all of the things we do today before a/c, and they made accomodations for the ambient conditions.

    By the numbers, roughly: buildings consume 50% of America’s energy. 50% of the building energy, or 25% of all American energy consumption, is HVAC. I don’t know what proportion of that is A/C, but I’m going to guess 2/3rds or more. On the heatig side, while thermal energy is generated from the fuel at the point of consumption with efficiencies around 80%, the coal used to generate a/c has to be mined, transported, converted to electricity, transported again, then converted to thermal energy by your a/c. So, of the available energy in the lump of coal, how much actually made it into cooling your house? MAYBE TWENTY PERCENT based on my amateur knowledge of these conversions. The other eighty percent was absorbed by all the other processes. The carbon footprint of each btu of a/c is likely several times larger than the btu of heat from your furnace.

    Architectural adjustments for warm climates – here’re examples. I lived near a pre-a/c apartment house in Austin. It was designed with windows which nearly from floor to ceiling – and opened all the way. Open up a few of those and you’ve got good ventilation. Every room had windows and exterior exposure, and ceiling fans.

    Another example: whole house fans. These fans mounted usually in an interior hallway and pull a large quantity of air in through open windows and push it our through attic vents. Here in Colorado, we use ours to cool down the house at night, which we then button up during the day. In Mississippi and Louisiana, however they had a different function: they provided continuous air movement through a house during warm weather.

    Another example: sleeping porches. In the first half of the century it was common to design a house with a large screened in porch in warm climates. You can still spot these if you know what you’re looking for – today many have been walled or windowed-in.

    Another example: evaporative cooling. Still quite popular in the interior west. Depending on ambient conditions, temperature drops of 30 degrees can be achieved, and provide a constant flow of fresh air to the strucutre. Unfortunately the evaporative process is only effective on drier air, but nevertheless could be used today in many situations where a/c is installed.

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  28. There is nothing noble about suffering for lack of modern conveniences but neither is there anything noble about saying “I’ve got mine” and turning away as the effluent of those conveniences pours daily into the global atmosphere. We treat the atmosphere just as we do the ocean, as a vast sewer, just far enough removed from daily observation to cause us any worry at all.

    I work in a subject area where the consequences of global warming are never far from view. “Frst world” lifestyles have global consequences and to leave that reality unexamined seems both arrogant and short sighted to me. We may be unwilling to make the changes required to go without (or with more wisely used) AC or any other fossil-carbon fueled convenience but then we better start figuring out how we are going to pay for Africans to adjust to their warmer, drier future and for the people of Bangladesh to move out of the way of the sea.

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  29. I was grumpy and hot when I wrote my post above yesterday. Ironically it was because I’m on a research trip to NYC, where I actually feel grosser than I ever do in my hot Southern City. I think the Cox article is really good, and we practice almost all of his suggestions in my house. (We line dried for years but haven’t got around to sinking the concrete for the pole at this place.)

    Where I live, poor people stay poor in part because they don’t have access to things like AC. In a world where we have to work 12 months a year at full tilt, not having AC in this climate makes it much more difficult to thrive. In addition, it makes your house/apartment much more likely to get mold, which can cause serious medical problems.

    This is why my city makes it almost free for home owners and landlords to retrofit older homes with central air. It cuts way down on electricity consumption, and makes everything more livable. Unfortunately, it is a lot of paperwork and requires web access–there are at least 2 nonprofits in the city that help people get central air in low income areas.

    One of the biggest advantages of central air is the fact it makes opening windows much, much easier. If your cool air isn’t blocking up your windows, you can open them wide on the days when it only hits 85.

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  30. Wini–that’s a good point about window units vs. central air. But, in my city where evening temps are down in the 50s and 60s on summer nights, we still hear the central air units humming away in most neighborhoods. . .

    Thanks, Geoff, for your expert tech perspective. (One corrective: I don’t see myself or anyone else here as a “hater” of the A/C. Speaking for myself, it’s mostly inertia and cheapskatery, plus the fact that we’re OK without it.)

    Truffula (and others on this thread) gets us back to something that Z said above that I think we should think about, and that was part of my original motivation for this post in the first place: “I agree about the privilege thing but the question is: there’s that gusher in the Gulf, in addition to global warming, and it’s pretty obvious we have to cut down on electricity and transportation. So the question of how much one can cut voluntarily, or what the workarounds would be, is partly a practical one, at least as I experience it.

    As many have suggested, it’s a privilege to decide how one is going to make oneself comfortable in the heat, and many people here and around the world don’t have that privilege.

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  31. @Historiann When we lived in LA, we used our (window) AC about 10 times a summer. Almost everyone else in our complex used them from May-September. In LA! Where it gets to 60 most nights! All apartments had ceiling fans, and did I mention it was in LA?

    I like the idea of the aural ecology “telling on” our neighbors.

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  32. I’m late to the discussion, but I’m really irritated with the A/C in my office, so I’m going to write anyway. Feel free to ignore :)

    I am consistently freezing in offices in the summer (generally in the Washington, DC area). Everywhere I’ve worked so far has been business casual for almost everyone, but the temperature is often set as though everyone is in pantsuits with jackets on. I have to keep a jacket at work, because it’s too hot by far to wear or even carry one to the Metro. I have had to leave stores in the summer because it was too cold to browse, and I almost always take a sweatshirt to the movies. I realize that I get bold more easily than others, but not that much more!

    I’m pro-A/C, but I wish we could all agree to turn it down a bit. At least something in the mid- or high-seventies, instead of the sixties? That would be major savings in terms of the environment and energy expenditures, and I know from all the complaining I hear that I would not be the only one to appreciate it.

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  33. So I’m late to the discussion, but holy hell.

    I live in Houston. Which is LESS TEMPERATE than Mumbai, people. Everything has A/C; it’s a city ordinance that all apartments have to have it.

    This is not as silly as it seems, though. After Hurricane Ike, I didn’t have electricity for 12 days. Given that my windows were painted shut (for why would anyone ever want to open them if the a/c is there?) it was like the Black Hole of Calcutta in my apartment. Try “working” when it’s 100 degrees with almost 100 percent humidity. Try “sleeping.” Couldn’t leave the door open because the horrifying swarm of mosquitoes would then attack.

    The built environment obviously matters, as my apt. wasn’t really designed for anything other than a/c. Then again, MOST structures in Houston are not designed for anything other than a/c.

    I have run the a/c as late as Thanksgiving and as early as Easter. Winter in Houston is lovely. The rest of the year it’s quite literally an inferno. And don’t get me started on the fire ants, the massive cockroaches, the termites, the mold, the packs of wild dogs, the systemic flooding, the constant threat of hurricanes, the rats, the fleas that never die …

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  34. Carbon footprints has to do with efficiency of the housing, too. Single family dwellings in a suburb (where the porches, BBQ’s, and clothes lines are) are not that efficient compared to, say, apartment blocks in dense urban area where stores are within walking/bus distance. Let them have their AC, I say.

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  35. HVAC guy, thank you! Building codes must change now!

    I am running a/c as we speak and also dying of heat, I am near Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the heat is bad like in Houston, so I do understand every single pro a/c feeling.

    But: consider the so-called French Quarter in N.O., those buildings with thick exterior walls, shade on all sides, and interior patios with fountains in them.

    Consider similar architecture in southern Spain (upon which it was modeled).

    Or in Florence, which is very hot and humid, walk into one of those Renaissance era churches, they’re cool.

    I’m not saying that all this stuff makes one *as* comfortable as a/c can, but with fans and also with work scheduled for the coolest and shadiest hours, it can make a huge difference and massively reduce carbon imprint.

    That last is super important, people. Even if you believe global warming is not caused by us, you have to realize we have to do something about energy consumption.

    What do you think we should do, if our plan is to continue and/or increase current consumption levels while the BRIC countries (that’s a lot of land area and population, you know) do the same?

    Personally, I am starting to think we should go nuclear, now that the oil situation is as it is. I never thought I would say that, partly because I thought when I was younger that we would have gone to solar and wind by now (and created bike paths, ecovillages, bullet trains, all of that).

    Since we have not and since the general plan seems to be to increase consumption (or at least, on average, maintain current level, in the US), what would y’all like to do?

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  36. sp raises a really important point. Building for not using a/c means less density compared to NYC. In a perfect world it would be an a/c vs. automobile trade off. But of course, it’s not. Those Cali folks living spread out and using a/c all the time? Blech.

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  37. Wow, has there ever been an 87-comment thread here!? How hot IS it back there? Last night we went to a Quatorze Juillet fireworks display on a windswept French beach and I was the only person there not dressed in 3 layers, as they waited for it to approach midnight to get dark enough, and for the rival town across the water to finish its measly display, before they shot off the works. Then home to sleep under blankets. Philly has been miserable the last few weeks, but I only use a fan, not the noisy, smelly, and weak thru-wall air condidioners;

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  38. South Louisiana today had a heat index of 110, although the thermometer I actually saw read 98 in the shade (heat index adds in humidity factors).

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  39. The case *for* A/C, at least in moderate doses:

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/07/15/pollution.asthma.suicide/index.html?hpt=T2

    While I’m an “anti-A/C” person (or perhaps, a “pro jacking up the thermostat” person?), air quality in the world and rising rates of life-threatening asthma truly differentiate our era from a hundred years ago, or fifty years ago. Of course pollution caused by things like A/C are largely responsible for the air quality/ asthma problems, so it’s a bit of a endless loop of bad news.

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