Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 2011 / 2 Elul, 5771
America still shows the power of the individual
By Reg Henry
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | With the impeccable timing that can only come as the approach of Labor Day signals summer's almost gone, I address a topic that has been on ice all season: the curse of air conditioning.
First, it is important to know that I was born in the tropics. The expression "some like it hot" was meant for me.
But some people -- those possessing poorly calibrated body thermostats -- are overheated enough to believe that air conditioning is a blessing, not a curse. They point out that many areas were once considered too hot for habitation and are now teeming with air-conditioned malls and offices.
The Sun Belt, for example. The Air-Conditioning Belt more like it. The irony is that those who live in the Sun Belt hide from the sun much of the time, driving in their air-conditioned cars to their air-conditioned offices. What has become of honest perspiration? Sadly, a great chill has descended on the land.
I would become hot and bothered about this if I thought no one else had noticed. But as I sat fanning myself with the color magazine the other day, I happened upon a piece titled "Oh, to Be Warm In Summer's Heat" in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times.
Elisabeth Rosenthal, an environmental reporter for the Times, dared to ask the question that has lingered too long in the shade: "Why are airports, shops, offices, and homes in the United States and elsewhere chilled to sweater-weather temperatures in summer when the temperature outside rises?"
Well, in my own home experience, it may be because some spouses -- not to mention any names -- are apparently related to Nanook of the North and prefer their nights to be air-conditioned to a high level of refrigeration, with a fan also blowing just to make sure. Call me a complainer, but on a summer's night I find that it is not good to have icicles form on my nose. They drip on my pajamas.
Work brings no real respite. Like a good wine, my prose is best imbibed at room temperature, but this old newspaper office is sometimes so chilly in the hotter months that wolves can be heard howling down distant corridors, although in fairness that could be my column arriving at the copy desk.
Besides being set to mortuary standards of coolness, air conditioners deprive their users of the chance of being in touch with the environment. As Ms. Rosenthal pointed out, setting a thermostat one degree higher can bring a 6 percent energy savings, beneficial to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, many people don't believe in global warming, maybe because they can't stop hugging their units long enough to step outside.
Hotels are excessive providers of over-conditioned air. Their appliances can often be adjusted if you have an engineering degree, but by the time the faux ice age has frosted the room curtains, it is too cold to get out of bed.
Most annoyingly, the windows in hotels rarely open. I suppose that a guest once tied bedsheets together and escaped without paying the bill, leaving the rest of us to suffer ever after as prisoners.
As for me, I want to hear the sounds of a new city when I stay in a hotel -- the sirens, the gunfire, the shrieks, the calls for help. You can't get the flavor of a place in a sealed icebox.
But individual sufferings are nothing compared with the geographical harm done by the air-conditioning blight.
Take Texas, for example. In summer, it used to be a big hot state fit for armadillos, cattle, oil riggers and sundry preachers who sounded plausible in describing the fiery torment of hell when anyone who walked outside could experience it.
Texans adjusted well to their environment. The women grew big hair that acted as cooling towers. The men wore giant cowboy hats that doubled as awnings. Everybody complained, which gave folks something to talk about. Best of all, the heat deterred outsiders from moving there and kept the number of Texans manageable.
Air conditioning spoiled all that. A minor epidemic of presidential candidates incubated in the chilly Texan indoors in recent years have inflicted themselves on the rest of the country, their hot air being in reverse proportion to the artificial frigidity that propelled Texas forward.
This is not nature's plan. For hot days, the old-fashioned remedies are best -- cold beer, lemonade, ice cream, the shade of porch or tree, swimming holes. I write as one who was not cool to begin with, so there's no artificially improving me. I say, take your air as nature meant you to have it -- without conditioning.