I was happy to see that my electric bill for July in St. Louis was a relatively low $120. That includes all of my electric bill, which heats my water and runs the air conditioning. Some would say that I don’t do a very good job of air conditioning. When I’m living at my house without any guests, I never set it lower than 80 degrees (far higher than many people I know), and I supplement that 80 degree setting with fans. It feels great in here, and it all makes sense to me–if someone said that the high temperature was going to be only 80, that would be a wonderful day. Further, when I’m going to be mostly in my office for the day, I shut off the AC entirely and use only a small window unit.
When I got my recent bill, I was in a mood to congratulate myself, but a recent article in The Boston Globe suggests that I’m not doing nearly enough. Here’s an excerpt:
But although there are a handful of anti-A/C crusaders out there, the idea that we need to be using less of it hasn’t become a touchstone of environmental enlightenment, like recycling or hybrid cars. This may well be an indication of how deeply it has shaped our world: While we can imagine giving up plastic bags and Styrofoam, living without climate control seems unfathomable, especially during a heat wave.
Until recently, however, civilization was humming along just fine without this costly convenience—and going back might not be as impossible as we think. The human body is quite well suited to deal with heat if we let it, and if we back away just a little bit from our assumptions about what it means to be comfortable, it’s easy to picture an alternate reality in which, instead of flipping on the freon at the slightest provocation, we learn to cope with the air we have. The human body is surprisingly adaptable, and by weaving together techniques from the past, ideas from hot-weather countries, and new findings from building design experts about what people actually find comfortable, we can see a surprising portrait emerge of what life might look like if we, as a society, decided we could no longer afford our addiction.
A lot would have to change. We’d wake up earlier, and nap in the middle of the day to make up for it. We’d ride bikes and scooters everywhere, and swimming would replace running as the preferred form of exercise. Maybe we’d see the return of porch culture—of screened-in card games and flowing iced tea. And maybe we’d start taking pride in tricking out our finished basements. After a while we’d get used to it, just like we got used to the artificial indoor chill we take for granted now. And who knows—eventually we might even come to like it.
Oh, and my favorite quote from this excellent article: “We’re not cartons of milk, after all; we will not spoil, even if we do sweat a little.”