Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Against Air Conditioning

It's two-years old, but this Will Saletan piece criticizing our overuse of AC is still quite good.

All over the country, power consumption is breaking records, and air conditioning is a huge reason why. We use about one-sixth of our electricity to cool ourselves. That's more than the total electricity consumption of India, a country whose population exceeds 1 billion. To get the electricity, we burn oil and coal. We also run air conditioners in our cars, which reduces urban fuel efficiency by up to four miles per gallon, at an annual cost of 7 billion gallons of gasoline.

More burning of oil and coal means more greenhouse gases. Based on government data, Stan Cox, a scientist at the Land Institute, calculates that air-conditioning the average U.S. home requires 3,400 pounds of carbon-dioxide production per year. The effects of this are particularly bad at night. Over the last five summers, very high minimum daily temperatures—those that score in the top 10 percent historically—have been far more widespread in this country than during any other five-year period. This is what's killing people. Outdoor air used to cool at night, allowing us to recover from the day's heat. Now it doesn't. To fuel our own air conditioning, we're destroying nature's.

I think this only one piece of our growing hubris as a species. We constantly try to avoid anything difficult like taking a pill to lose weight without worrying about long-term consequences. We live in the moment. If it feels good right now, then do it. Unfortunately, this typically does not have good consequences (see: the current credit crisis). We as a society need to do some serious self-examination and ask ourselves, "What do we truly value?"

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