Monday, January 14, 2019

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare


I’m always so happy when I’m packing for a teaching trip to a warm place. In go the Tivas, the shorts, the colorful short-sleeve summer shirts that I only get to wear a month or two each year. In goes the cool straw hat I bought in New Orleans, the bathing suit and the sunglasses.

And then I pause and remember. I will be teaching indoors and almost everywhere these days that means… air-conditioning. Not the kind that takes just the right edge off the heat and makes everyone comfortable. The kind that is 10 degrees too cold, even in my blue jeans and thick long-sleeves shirts. Unless I’m in Singapore. Then it’s 20 degree too cold.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember something about the way air-conditioning releases hydroflourocarbons into the atmosphere and this greenhouse gas eats away at the ozone layer. We knew that when much of the world used hand-waved fans or electric fans or best of all, ceiling fans. Low-tech, low-electricity, low-impact on climate change. And yet—especially ceiling fans—mostly effective.

But now air-conditioning is on the rise, especially in large populous countries like China and India. And the irony is that as the planet gets hotter from such practices, the people will want to stay cooler—with air-conditioning.

As far as I can tell, with air-conditioning you lose three ways:

1)   It’s designed to make you comfortable in hot weather, but mostly, because it’s turned up so high and often out of your control in buildings with a central system, it makes you uncomfortable.

2)   The contrast between the freezing cold inside and the heat outside is good for exactly no one’s immune system.

3)   And then there’s climate change.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is a book by Henry Miller critiquing the excesses of American culture. Now that most of the world is following our worst example, the nightmare has grown larger.

I ended up wearing my air-plane clothes (another always too-cold air-conditioned nightmare!) the whole two days I taught indoors here in Puerto Rico and finally got my shorts and summer shirt out this morning as I walked two hours from the hotel to Old Town San Juan and back again. It was hot!

And I loved it.

What’s so bad about being hot? Part II coming up.

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