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Should we get rid of air conditioning?

This is the first summer in which I have enjoyed central air conditioning in my home. I’m more productive. I exercise more often. My chi is more, um, chi-like. Until last night, when my power went out after a rain storm, and -- beaded with sweat -- I started to feel a little guilty about how badly I wanted it to switch on. How many polar bears, I half-joked to myself, would die if I were able to crank up my air conditioning again?

Where was this coming from? Routine scolding from some of my environmentalist friends who subscribe to the views of anti-air conditioning crusader Stan Cox. Cox informed Outlook readers last month that how their a/c use only makes us hotter in the long run, since artificially cooling homes uses a lot of electricity, and a lot of electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming. He would no doubt say I wasn’t feeling guilty enough.

Cox has a point -- until it comes to his dystopian alternative, which resembles the ring of hell reserved for climate deniers. He proposes using air conditioning exclusively in places such as hospitals and archives and, for the rest of us, staying outside all day, opening windows in the thick heat and riding scooters in desperation for “the cooling effect of air movement.” Our forbears did it, he argues, and America grew robustly, regardless.

That’s silly.

America also grew after air conditioning became standard, undoubtedly making Americans far more productive during the summer. Among other things, turning off the air would mean lots of heat-related days off again -- nice enough for workers, but calamitous for the economy. Clearly, when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, there have to be more attractive tradeoffs than all that.

Indeed, the folks who fixate on air conditioning -- an invention that has enhanced the lives of millions, despite its costs -- miss the big picture. The long-term solution to the long-term problem of global warming is to change how we generate electricity, so that the tradeoff between cutting emissions and maintaining our standard of living is minimal. Getting there will probably require higher energy prices; in response to those, I guarantee most Americans would sacrifice a lot of other power-gobbling goods and services before they opted to permanently shut of their a/c.

Of course, we should all encourage energy efficiency and conservation. Turn off the a/c when you’re gone. Close your shades. Turn the thermostat up overnight. Etc. There’s a point, though, past which that becomes unrealistic and harmful to the cause of fighting climate change. The fastest way to destroying popular will to deal with carbon emissions is to inform Americans that they must revert to a way of conducting their lives that was demonstrably, obviously, painfully worse.

By Stephen Stromberg  | August 13, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

No actually in lots of case we could do without air conditioning as well as hair conditioning!!

Posted by: Wildthing1 | August 13, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Yes! Unless it's for medical reasons.

That way most of these Republican Nut Cases and Carpet Baggers will go back North!

Posted by: ddoiron1 | August 13, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Who are you kidding? Most people don't work under Air Conditioning; only office types do.

You can't build a 200 mile Pipeline, a bridge, Ship, Barge or many other things from an air conditioned office chair. Most Fishermen don't have that luxury either.

Posted by: ddoiron1 | August 13, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Most fishermen aren't doing most of their fishing when it's 100 degrees and humid. There's a reason they go out at 5 am.

Posted by: AlexRemington | August 13, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

@ddoiron1:
It is hard to air condition the outdoors.
.
However, lots of assembly line factories workers and auto shops now have air conditioned environments too.
.
It's not just the 'office types'

Posted by: rpixley220 | August 13, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I haven't felt the need to run my AC for several years, although I would if my elderly cat with a recently-developed heart condition seemed to require it. But so far, he hasn't.

And if the chi of an elderly cat with a heart condition (not to mention a fur coat) seems to be just fine without any AC, what does it say about Mr. Stromberg that his isn't?

Posted by: Itzajob | August 13, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

If Sun Belt residents have to give up their A/C in summer, then the Frost Belters should be forced to give up their furnaces in winter. Unless you live in some place like Hawaii where the temperatures vary only a few degrees all year, you need artificial heating or cooling to make your home livable.

Posted by: angelas1 | August 13, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

If Sun Belt residents are forced to give up their A/C in summer, then Frost Belt residents should be forced to turn off their furnaces in winter. Why is A/C hedonistic and heat is not? Unless you live in some place like Hawaii where temperatures vary only a few degrees all year, all of us need either heat or A/C to make our homes livable.

Posted by: angelas1 | August 13, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Does anybody remember some years back when a terrible heat wave assaulted France and the many who died in Paris and other places because the French thought that air-conditioning was unhealthy? Welcome to the 21st Century.

Posted by: Leopold1 | August 14, 2010 12:08 AM | Report abuse

We all should be using air conditioning. Your health may very well depend on it. Your lungs need a break from the pollution of the work day out of doors. Also you need to have a humidifier, he pa filter, and a ultra violet light, installed as well to kill any virus that lurk in the air. It kills cooking odors,pet odors, the bird flu,anthrax,and any airborne viruses that can infect your living quarters.If it has a DNA it kills it,also the U.V. light keeps your air conditioning system working efficiently by keeping the evaporator coil clean from any mold or growth in the A/C/ drain pans. In today's day and age you need to take care of your sleep as well and air conditioning helps you get a better nights sleep, so you can be more productive the next day. The air we breath is vital to the life force in our lives.Here's to your health :)

Posted by: annieandpauldonovan | August 14, 2010 5:16 AM | Report abuse

Here's an idea. Install (solar Photovoltaic panels) on top of every light pole in the country. It won't give you a 100 % of power but it won't take up any room and it will pay for itself. And also it will save our country from the power grab grid. So use your A/C without any guilt.:)

Posted by: annieandpauldonovan | August 14, 2010 5:22 AM | Report abuse

Seriously, my last post about solar panels on top of every light post, is a good idea and if we took some of the stimulus money and put it towards a payback system such as this we would all feel better about where our money is being spent. :)

Posted by: annieandpauldonovan | August 14, 2010 5:27 AM | Report abuse

This article nicely summarizes our dilemma if we are trying to be responsible. There really is a trade-off between productivity and the environment, at least where air-conditioning is concerned. I was reminded of this during a recent very hot summer while working in France -- where air-conditioning is rare -- and summer productivity correspondingly quite low. All of which brought back memories of my youth in the early 60's. In my teens our family moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland from a cooler northern state, and I found the summers debilitating. Even working night shifts in a factory didn't help much since you still had to try to sleep during the daytime, which I did mostly in the basement. I also remember my early summer trips to Washington DC and also to visit relatives in the deep south -- in the summer. Nothing happened much anywhere -- it was just too hot and too humid. But my experience also makes clear what air-conditioning has cost the country. First, there would have been no rust belt in the north (at least until now) -- all of those factories which moved to the South (and are now moving to China) would have never been able to operate in the summer heat. And second, the US government would be a lot smaller, since (to quote G. Washington) the DC area is pretty much uninhabitable 3 months of the year, so all the politicians made it a point to shut things down and leave town (even in the 1960's). Now they stay. So for those who advocate smaller government and are serious about it: BAN AIR-CONDITIONING! Washington (and most state governments as well) would shrink at unbelievable speed. And our energy crisis would also be well on its way to solution as well.

Posted by: taxpayer2 | August 14, 2010 6:29 AM | Report abuse

As Taxpayer2 points out, before widespread air conditioning, the government left town in the summer. That's not going to happen. But could I remind everyone that until air conditioning, the South had a very low population. Florida, in fact, was the smallest Confederate State in population and did not take off in population for a century after that. Basically, without air conditioning, this place is a lot less habitable. Turn off yours if you like, not my problem, but don't expect me to visit.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | August 14, 2010 7:00 AM | Report abuse

Every year we have elderly people die in thier homes because they lack air conditioning. Is that your plan for Social Security? The heat is some parts of the country is deadly. We also have young football players die from too much practice and too little water and dumb, indifferent coaches. Heat is not funny down here.

Posted by: withersb | August 14, 2010 7:05 AM | Report abuse

The latest Giant Green Jolly in Bonn was a repeat performance of the disarray seen last year at Copenhagen and a foretaste if what is expected later this year in Cancun. The cause this time was not dodgy science but economic blackmail as developing nations demanded $400 billion per annum as “compensation” from the West. Even the most fashionably green among the Western leaders baulked at making such a wealth transfer, especially to competitors such as China, India and Brazil. Climate policies and green taxes, once considered so trendy, have turned into major liabilities for the West and are now being dumped in response to public backlash. People now see that “green” simply means “more expensive” and surveys suggest 80% of British voters are sceptical of the alarmism and are not willing to pay higher taxes.

Posted by: jucameron43 | August 14, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Should we get rid of air conditioning? Sure, with Obama/Pelosi the US will soon be a third world country. Why should we be any better that Brazil?

November can't come soon enough!

Posted by: 2012frank | August 14, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

It would solve the obesity problem. It's too hot to carry around extra pounds.....

Posted by: Robynmarigny | August 14, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

This anti-AC movement smacks of anti-South discrimination.

We'll give up air conditioning in the summer when Maine and Minnesota give up heat in the winter.

That being said, there's no reason most of us can't all keep the thermostat at 65 degrees or lower in winter and 85 degrees or higher in summer. Neither temperature is perfectly comfortable, but nobody's going to end up in the hospital, either.

Posted by: kristenkristen | August 14, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Stan Cox is out of his mind. AC is the best invention ever. Better to live without cars, planes and senators than to go back to caves. The difference between animals and people is heating, cooling and silverware. All the other stuff is just brainwashing and wimps pillows. 68-75 degrees of living is the only way to live. Period!

Posted by: zayxln | August 14, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

If communist use air conditioning they are forgiven. Enemies of AC are enemies of humanity.

Posted by: zayxln | August 14, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

What an incredible bunch of self-centered, pampered creatures we are!

Posted by: fishlawsbob | August 14, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Kristenkristen, you're right. There's a compromise here, and it's seasonal variation. For about six months of the year, I don't use either heat nor A/C in my apartment, I just leave the windows cracked for circulation. Those would be the six months when the temperature is above 60 and below 90. Outside of that, my central heat/AC is on. I don't feel any environmental shame doing this (although I think I could use a more efficient system--but that's up to my landlord, not me). If I let my apartment get hotter, my fish would be very upset. I've got a heater in the tank, but I can't cool the tank.

The problem is when we moralize the environment--and historically "moral" stances say that suffering is just a sign of Being Right. And that doesn't really make sense, does it?

Posted by: whiteflame128 | August 14, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

They'll pry my air-conditioning from my COLD, DEAD hands!!!

Posted by: anganarshah1 | August 14, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Central air is a godsend here in Canyon Country, CA. We were uninhabited until it was available, if you discount a handful of "desert rats" that seemed to enjoy the torture. For most of us, it is as vital as a furnace in Minnesota.

For either technology, the wuestion is not "YES/NO", but "HOW MUCH". More advanced thermostat controls, some care in taking advantage of the cooling that occurs here nightly, and having modern insulation, windows, and doors, enable me to keep a tolerable level of comfort in 100 degree heat, with 1 or 2 hours of running the A/C. Even in high summer, my electric bill stays under $100/month for a 1240 sq ft home. Some of my neighbors, in older homes the size of mine, can pay as much as $300/month for electricity, because their older homes leak air and heat like a sieve.

The reverse is true in the winter months, with my gas bill for central heat less than $50/month, even when I am cooking a lot more for the holidays.

We should recall that the economic improvements in the South and Southwest regions did not happen until air conditioning became widespread. I don't think folks in these regions want to go back to low-wage "siesta-time" economics.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | August 14, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

The state and federal governments should pay 50/50 for any home or building owner to have solar panels installed on his roof. This will generate some of the power necessary to run things like air conditioners, cool the home by keeping sunlight off the roof, and when people are away at work it will put power back in to the electrical grid. If everyone did that it would cut consumption of generated power a great deal. This is worth the government investing in, provided all solar panels would quality for subsidy only in made in USA.

Posted by: jiji1 | August 15, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Stromberg's arguments seem a little shallow:

"The long-term solution to the long-term problem of global warming is to change how we generate electricity, so that the tradeoff between cutting emissions and maintaining our standard of living is minimal."

We really can't just "change how we generate electricity," and keep our per capita rates of consumption constant without enduring lots of unintended consequences and externalities such as high cost, waste disposal, and security risk associated with nuclear power. Or, the perpetual NIMBY litigation and environmental degredation caused by natural gas drilling, or building many, many more windmills than we really need.

Really need, that is, if we fail to adopt intelligent solutions for electricity needs, such as efficiency, which costs a tenth as much as new generation capacity, but also intelligent building designs that do not require air conditioning but keep occupants more comfortable and productive than current air conditioned designs.

There's lot of places to find out more about better, cheaper, less environmentally destructive energy ideas.

The Rocky Mountain Institute is one of the oldest and best: www.rmi.org

Or, you can read my blog: http://cyclopsvuethinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Energy

Posted by: JimWelke | August 15, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

"America also grew after air conditioning became standard, undoubtedly making Americans far more productive during the summer. Among other things, turning off the air would mean lots of heat-related days off again -- nice enough for workers, but calamitous for the economy."

That's silly! The author only shows a correlation with growth and air condition whiole ignoring many other variables happening during that same time beriod to show that X made Americans far more productive in the summer. Furthermore, it appears that all Americans are office workers in his mind.

Finally, the whole obsession about economic growth is stupid and ultimately unhealthy. Wouldn't it make sense to slow down a bit in the summer? What's so calamitous for the economy with that? By the author's reasoning, it would be better to lock workers 100 hours a week in their offices in order to be more productive all the time.

Stupid!

Posted by: pjs1965 | August 16, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I'll give up my AC when Stromberg gives up his obsession with global warming. It's also nice to have AC in 105 degree heat in the summer, especially when you have small children.

Posted by: gmfletcher12 | August 16, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Another idiotic proposal. Look, like it or not, virtually every office building would have to be abandoned since their complete design is based on air conditioning. Not only would these buildings be unoccupied during the summer months, but a good deal of spring and fall. You might be able to use them during the winter in some parts of the country. For crying out loud, before making one of these environmental nut proposals, please go out and check with a HVAC engineer about heat loads in buildings.

Posted by: RedRat | August 16, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

In my city today, the heat index is 110. In my state, seven people have died this year from heat exhaustion. I rest my case in favor of A/C.

Posted by: Seahawk2 | August 16, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

No, we should not get rid of air conditioning.

Should we get rid of pundits wasting valuable electricity while wondering if we should get rid of air conditioning- absolutely.

Posted by: dcperspective | August 16, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"As Taxpayer2 points out, before widespread air conditioning, the government left town in the summer."

And that's a bad thing, how? It's not like the Congress stays in D.C. is in session much during the summer as it is, with the "Memorial Day recess," the "Fourth of July recess," the "August recess," and the "Labor Day recess." Our elected representatives get more "recess" than most schoolchildren (and taxpayers) do!

Posted by: srpinpgh | August 16, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Hey libs, move back north where you don't need AC. It will make the south a much nicer place to live.

Also, when you get there, turn your heat off in the winter.

Thanks.

Posted by: rdtshop | August 16, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Ever been to Houston or Atlanta or New Orleans in August? As Patton said "you'll know what to do...." turn it on!

Posted by: dbleagles | August 17, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Air conditioning makes it possible for people with respiratory illnesses, such as very severe asthma or emphysema, to live at home instead of moving permanently to hospitals. In recent years, some office buildings have been built with sealed windows, so they are dependent on air conditioning--they can't open their windows if the AC goes out, because they may be connected to fire alarms.

Posted by: CherieOK | August 17, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

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