Wednesday, July 23, 2014

We Should Chill

This summer I must have heard a dozen people declare that they would die without air conditioning. We got into a little patch of warmth here in Portland, total sunblare, highs in the nineties for a few days on end, and things got critical for a lot of folks. In my opinion, you do not need air conditioning in Portland. We'll have a really hot stretch for, like, three days in a row, which you could easily live through with a wet washcloth and a fan, leaving you with 363 days of relative comfort. We can go years without having a nighttime temperature above 69. So even on your hot days, if you can exhaust the air out of your house at night with a good fan, you can make out like a bandit, compared to the rest of the nation.

And, in fact, I also believe no one needs air conditioning at all. How could we? It wasn't invented that long ago. People managed to survive long enough to poke sperm into each other for a million years before AC came on the scene.

So people are using hyperbole when they say they will die without air conditioning, which is laudable from a literary standpoint, except that they seem so sincere. Actually, I get it. I hate heat passionately. I moved across the country to--okay, I just moved to leave a boyfriend behind and shake my life up a little, but once I discovered that you could go through a summer without thinking about opening up a vein just to let some heat out, which you totally would have done if you could have summoned the energy, why, I didn't want to move back. It sucks being hot. It's mizzable.

But it's survivable. Heat is God's way of saying "you keep crying, I'll give you something to cry about." You don't like to be hot? I've got locusts. I've got floods. I've got plague and war and famine. Keep whining, and see where it gets you.

My suspicion, though, is that we've come to depend on AC so much that we don't even allow ourselves a reasonable range of comfort. We don't want to inconvenience a sweat gland or ask too much of a shivering muscle. No, we've pretty much got it down to a yearlong 70 degrees. We want to sweater up to our comfort level. We don't want to give our cells a workout. We're boxing ourselves in.

And if it didn't matter, if there was no downside, I would say bring it on. Can you make my whole house suitable for naked TV-watching all year? Lovely. I've got 2500 more square feet than I need, but all those rooms should be comfortable too, in case I need to walk through them on the way to the fridge or the clothes dryer. But air conditioning takes coal. It takes oil and gas. It takes water away from salmon. It's jamming the atmosphere with carbon. It's heating us up. We might actually die from all that, or our kids will. And we can't keep doing this.

I grew up without air conditioning, in Washington Gates-Of-Hell D.C. Not without complaining, hell no. But definitely without dying. We'd lean into the mosquitoes for the breeze from their wings. We'd lie on the floor in a personal marinade of unevaporated sweat and stick our fingers in the black oscillating fan every now and then, just to feel something different. But no one does that anymore. God, we're such pansies about our comfort.

Don't be putting a tag in the seam of my underpants, though. That's crossing a line.

48 comments:

  1. Some people do need air conditioning. A day over 95 can be medically dangerous for an elderly person. As for how people got along without air conditioning before it was invented, well, that's probably one of many reasons (for areas with hot climates, anyway) why people didn't live as long back then. When people get old, they get fragile. We live longer now partly because we're better at protecting ourselves from environmental stress when we're old.

    Anyway, even though I'm only 53, why should I be hideously uncomfortable in the 21st century when it's avoidable?

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    1. Busted, dude, you're living in Portland! If you've been hideously uncomfortable at any point this summer, you've goofed up somewhere. Leave your windows open all day? Shades not drawn? Window fans not pointed toward the outside at night?

      I still love you even if you're a heat wienie.

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  2. I do turn it off at night (most nights).

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    1. I would have thought you were someone who was so hot he could never turn it off. That's supposed to be a compliment, but it looks weird now...

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  3. My mother lived without air conditioning until she was 87. Then I got it into my head that she had to have it. I don't think she ever liked it. Her house had high ceilings, and she had floor fans around. To her that seemed enough. By the way, we live in Georgia, where it is hot and humid, particularly in July and August. A lot is in what we get used to.

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    1. I believe that. And I'd whine to high heaven if I lived back there now. I think I was kind of used to it when I was a kid. I also don't love AC, although it's a huge relief at first to walk into an air conditioned place on a hot day. I think usually it's set too cold or something.

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  4. We stagger around with our three window units mid-June and then only remember to use them four times all summer. It's the reason (well, that and a husband) why I'm in Massachusetts instead of our mutual childhood sauna of D.C.

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    1. I should mention that my dad, who went in an AC bus to an AC office, always declared that air conditioning was bad for you. He kept saying it when mom started to pipe up about putting in central air. Then she finally took a part-time job and saved up money and bought it herself in the late '60s.

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  5. We just had a heat wave here in northern Washington state, it was almost 90 for three days in a row. I remember hot summer nights in Boulder, Colorado, where the sheet was all I could tolerate. Here, it's wonderful. You get a teensy bit hotter than we do, but not by much. Glad I don't live in Arizona. I'd probably say I'd die without AC. And then you would call me a whiner. :-)

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    1. There was a heat wave in Arizona a few years back where the soles of peoples' flip-flops literally melted and people who fainted in the heat suffered actual burns from their skin being in contact with the sidewalk too long.

      Not all parts of this planet are really suitable for humans to live on.

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    2. Dat's a fack. And there's so dang many of us to distribute. Every time I read about the temperatures in the Middle East I wonder why that whole unrest thing hasn't solved itself already through attrition.

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  6. I have lived without it a lot, but enjoy being able to turn it on when the furniture starts to melt. Here in the Midwest 80 can be cool. I did spend my day yesterday in the pool to ward off the 95 degree day, but didn't get much else done. I did make a fresh peach pie to enjoy with some ice cream .

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    1. I heartily endorse water (taken internally and externally) and ice cream as a strategy.

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  7. We are suffering polar vortexes here in NE Ohio. Last winter we were bitterly cold for far too long, but all is forgotten now that we also have mid seventy degree weather IN JULY!

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    1. Wow! Does that mean your tomatoes are late? (We have the worst time getting tomatoes ripe here.)

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  8. Unfortunately, this is a classic example of recursion: the more we use air conditioning, the more the atmosphere heats up, so we use the AC even more... causing even more warming. I admit that I'm a big baby when it gets really hot and humid here on the east coast. I DO, however, turn the AC off when the humidity goes down. Some of my neighbors never open their windows; either the AC or the heater is on all year long. As a species, we have long since disconnected from nature, and have gotten to the point where most of us would not be able to exist in it.

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    1. I think that's one of the things that gets me--I have neighbors who have AC on all summer, even if it's only in the seventies. Whuh? Incidentally, amazon just sent me a junk email about a really good deal on a whole-house window exhaust fan. I should be peeved that the internet gods know everything about me, but on the other hand it's a REALLY good deal, and I just might order that puppy up. It cools down so nicely at night here.

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  9. And just as some of us are more sensitive to tags in our undies, some of us can't tolerate the heat as well as others :) Leave me and my (window unit) air con alone!

    Seriously, I don't know how folks in hotter climates managed before electricity, fans and air conditioning - and how some of them still do. Nature's extremes are, well, extreme, and can kill ya.

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    1. Yeah, but the underwear tags are bad ALL YEAR.

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  10. I could live without my evaporative cooler. I did live without my evaporative cooler. And I am glad not to. A guilty pleasure.
    My partner's mama used to put their jammies (in a plastic bag) in the freezer for a while so that they had some chance of going to sleep.

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    1. When you say "evaporative cooler," I wonder if you mean what my sister has in Colorado (and previously in Utah)? She calls it a "swamp cooler" and it only works in places that are not particularly humid, even if they're very hot. And there, they work real well. She starts that thing up in the late afternoon and you can feel everything cooling off. Nice.

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    2. Yup. And most of our heat (and heat we get) is dry heat. For the week or so each year we get humid heat I am a sad and soggy mess.

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    3. Okay, all my friends from Oz, I'm putting you on notice. I hate heat, but I think I'd love Australia, and I'd love to visit sometime!

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    4. Oh, please do, we'd welcome you with open arms. And ice cream.

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    5. I'll second that! It would be super if you came to visit all you Aussie mates.
      Here in WA we have consecutive days of temperatures in the hundreds during summer. Because my internal temperature control doesn't work (Hyperthermia), I would get very ill without my AC. The WA government even provided most of the funds to buy and install the beautiful, sleek reverse cycle unit (yes, I am in love with my AC.) I'm saving up to put solar panels on the roof so it uses clean renewable energy. "The sun ... provides enough energy in one minute to supply the world's energy needs for one year. In one day, it provides more energy than our current population would consume in 27 years." http://www.altenergy.org/renewables/solar.html Yet our government, with the help of a multi-millionaire mine owner, scraps the carbon tax and has a leader who is a climate change denier. Go figure!
      Bring on the revolution.

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    6. By "WA" you don't mean "Washington," do you? And we are way overdue for that particular revolution. Don't these climate change deniers have children?

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  11. Ours is one of the few non-air conditioned houses around here. The main reason being that it wouldn't work efficiently as the house is open-plan with louvre windows.We have ceiling fans and boy! do they get a work-out in summer. I would probably have to shop on-line if the stores were not cooled.This is the tropics, after all, and I'm from a long line of Viking blood, but I don't like air con or central heating.

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    1. I'm just guessing, but I think Viking blood does you no freakin' good in hot weather. I probably have some myself. My mom grew up in North Dakota on a farm with the rest of the Norwegian immigrants and they all managed just fine in the summer, although it's plenty hot there. Winters, she says, she NEVER got used to.

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  12. Always watch the cats. And learn.

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  13. Another alternative to air conditioning (which I do NOT have): have your house well-insulated and ventilated. Though it could cost a bit initially (mine was done through Clean Energy Works of Oregon), in the long run you'd be using less energy for both heating and cooling. During one hot day a couple weeks ago, my thermostat read 96 degrees outside, 73 degrees inside! In the evenings, I open all of my windows (triple-pane, of course) and air the place out. Air conditioning? Bah!

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    1. See? I love you Saint Mikey! This is what I'm saying. There are ways to work this that don't involve quite the energy expenditure we're currently using. And we can't keep that up. Maybe I can, if I'm rich enough....and will die soon....but we need to look to the future, and to the past.

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  14. One thing I realize is that in the past, people would cope with the heat by moving slowly and expecting less from each other. We suffered through our common burden together, and everyone used adaptive behavior, i.e., drawing the shades against the sun, and cooking very little. Ma Downs was old fashioned enough that when I was very young, we would prepare for the summer heat by rolling up the rug and putting down a sisal one, swapping out the dark slipcovers for sturdy, washable, light cotton ones, taking down the drapes and leaving only the sheer curtains. Dad Downs built a whole-house fan from a Sears Roebuck kit, and hooked it up to a salvaged washing machine motor -- so at night we would open only the bedroom windows, turn on the fan, and sleep with a 15mph breeze racing through our respective bedrooms. And all summer long, there were always endless glasses of iced tea and chilled watermelon or peaches, and on the weekend, maybe popsicles. Our neighbor, Miss Decatur, would set up a summer living room in her unfinished basement, with white wicker furniture and the cinderblock walls painted pale yellow. Heck, in the *really old days* during and shortly after WWII, Ma Downs worked as a government girl in downtown DC -- and if the temperature went up to 95, then the gov't offices would shut down! Instead of trying to control the weather, people adapted to it.

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    1. "Moving slowly and expecting less from each other." I do love that. I'd be fine with having people expect less from me starting right now. We didn't have a whole-house fan, but the box fan in the window was probably stronger than the crappy one I'm using right now. George used to check the indoor/outdoor temps starting right around dinnertime, and the second the outdoor temp was a degree cooler than the indoor, he opened all the windows and popped upstairs and cranked on that fan. Curtains would whoosh all over the house. I seem to remember we kids spent a lot of time in the sprinkler.

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  15. I've had my aircon for 11 months now and the cool last summer was far preferable to sitting in the path of a fan wearing nothing but a damp sheet. Which needed to be re-damped several times a day. And remembering to put a hot water bottle filled with cold water into the freezer to cool the bed before getting in was a pain in the you know what. I did those things for years and I think I've earned my airconditioned comfort. BUT, I don't use it all the time. If the air outside is comfortable then so am I. Above 100F? aircon on. Below15C? I might think about warming the room if I'm still shivering in spite of five layers of clothing. Sometimes I'll go to bed instead.

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    1. You're a good egg. And you're in a hotter place than I am.

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  16. Raised in the Mississippi Delta - without air conditioning. Live in Maine without air conditioning. If people don't like the heat they should move north. But then they would probably complain about the cold.

    Tags in the underpants are a problem? Don't wear any.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. That's what long skirts are all about.

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  17. We live near Seattle and make good use of open doors and open windows and, on occasion, a fan.

    My sister and her husband live in our back yard in their RV. Right now it is 62 and their AC is on. They recently moved here from Anchorage, so maybe that's part of it.

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  18. I live in the mid-Atlantic where you can chew the air in the summer. I do keep the AC to around 74-75 and at least can sleep at night! But this week and actually last week, the weather was heavenly. Better than Portland, perhaps.

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  19. Surviving DC in the summer certainly gives you context. Hot for sure. We try to use fans more often than not. They actually have a dual purpose in keeping things bearable as well as generating background noise so that little kids can sleep and not be awakened by every dog, cat or other living noise in the house.

    Enjoy your weekend.

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    1. I LOVE my fans for background noise. We do have one set of neighbors that goes on a toot every now and then.

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  20. Sing it!

    Just presented two sessions on climate change during a Summer Program (kids 8-13). Showed them Chasing Ice, the Keeling Curve, maps of the areas to be inundated in their lifetimes. Explained the current oh-shit state of the WAIS, the impacts of beef consumption, and the burden of a projected 9 billion humans by 2050. They seemed intent.

    To avoid inculcating despair, I stressed the actions that they could take; the activism communities of 350.org and climaterealityproject.org; and the purpose that this fight could give their generation.

    Grand finale: I asked who would be switching off the a/c, as I did in their room every day. Silence. Requested raised hands of those willing to reduce or eliminate red meat consumption. Not one.

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  21. When I worked in the education department at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, we had a heat wave of 100 degree days for about a week. Some wiener in the office complained that the AC wasn't cool enough. One of the directors then sent out an email explaining two things:

    1. Even the strongwst AC will only bring the temperature down by 15-20 degrees, and

    2. The presenters in the Village wearing wool costumes appropriate to the 18th and 19th centuries were not complaining.

    That pretty much ended that discussion.

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    1. You know, this is the thing. I'm as big a fan of comfort as anyone I know. But I think we can't afford the level of comfort we're being trained to expect. I once heard someone at my post office RAIL against THE ESTABLISHMENT for forcing us to poke letters into a sorting case in the morning without air conditioning on hot days. Even though we had to go out with those letters later in the day. WTF?

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