The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
June 8, 2009
by William P. Meyers

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The United States Congress apparently appropriated some $5 billion to help certain American citizens decrease their air-conditioning bills. This is supposed to be green and a stimulus to the American economy at the same time. Low income people get their houses insulated. Their air-conditioning becomes more efficient, so their electricity bills go down. Less electricity means less carbon dioxide emissions, so less global warming. At the same time, jobs are created for unemployed construction workers. Who could argue against that?

Me, of course. I don't see why low income citizens need air conditioning at all. Put me in charge, and I would ban air conditioning except for special circumstances, such as hospitals and nursing homes.

I don't advocate that simply because the amount of electricity used in the United States would plummet the first summer after such a law is enacted. Although that should be a good enough reason for an environmentalist.

I think air-conditioning has deconditioned the human species in the United States more than heat and humidity ever did.

I speak from experience. From the ages of 6 to 9, I lived in a house in Jacksonville, Florida that was not air-conditioned. We did have fans, but mainly we just adjusted to the heat. The schools I went to in Jacksonville never had air conditioning. Somehow we survived. We even played in the heat in the summertime. Sure, we liked to go swimming in cool waters too. But you can't play baseball in a swimming pool.

My family moved into a house with central heating and air conditioning when I was 9. My mother controlled the thermostat, setting it to 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 72 degrees in the winter. Man oh man, had we arrived in the middle class. It threatened to ruin the outdoors for me. If the inside of a house is 95 degrees and outside it is 95 degrees, you might as well be outside. At the age of 8 I had been well-acclimated to the heat. At the age of 12 I was acclimated to the "perfect" indoor climate. I still went outside in summer, but I often had a bad attitude about the heat.

A lot of people did not just play outdoors in the heat. They worked outdoors in the heat. A man who would not work in the heat, if that was the work that was available, was considered a lazy man.

So, when did air conditioning become a human right? Not just a luxury for the rich, but such a necessity that taxpayers are required to pay for it for poor people? Even though it is a major creator of greenhouse gasses?

Some early cultures had primitive versions of air conditioning, but the modern versions were based on cooling engines of various types first created in the 1800's. Willis Haviland Carrier is credited with the first practical air-conditioner, invented in 1902. The invention of Freon in 1928 made air-conditioning more practical, but mostly until the 1950's air-conditioning was a luxury item. In the 1960's air conditioning became a standard feature of middle class homes in the southern sweep of the United States. Air conditioned automobiles did not become common until the 1970s. But some time between then and now air conditioning came to be considered a necessity, not a luxury or just something nice.

Which means, we can do bloody well without them. Let us stop denying nature. Let us feel nature's summer heat. Let us feel that Autumn is a relief and that even Winter has its merit.

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