This year’s air-conditioning wars are heating up with Stan Cox’s latest enviro-alarmist piece over at the Washington Post. The environmental movement has become the latest home of luddites and secular-puritans who don’t see science as man’s triumph over nature, but as something which keeps us from achieving the life of the noble savage.
Since I value the scientific method and have been known to occasionally put off tasks, I lived for a couple weeks this summer without air conditioning. On an average day, I would arrive home from work, make dinner, and then promptly fall asleep because it was just too hot to do anything besides digest. I then managed to force myself to haul a window-unit out of the attic and set it up (thankfully before the last heat wave). Now, since my body isn’t fighting to keep cool, I can be more productive and work well into the evening (fashioning posts such as this one) without collapsing into a heat-induced fog. Several scientific studies have shown that people are more productive in comfortable temperatures, for the apparently well-published population who couldn’t figure this out intuitively. In addition, there’s less stress on my body, probably why we in America don’t see thousands of heat related deaths like they do in the supposedly environmentally friendly continent of Europe.
The real problem with the anti-air-conditioning lobby (besides their yearningly innocent belief in a non-existent simpler and purer past) is that they see the world as a zero-sum game. But the way we expend resources today will not be the way we spend them tomorrow. These are the same people who claim we are “addicted to oil” like some drug-addled fool. We are actually “addicted to oil” in the way that professional athletes are addicted to food. We need energy in order to create something worthwhile. Furthermore, ‘need’ and ‘addiction’ are similar but not synonymous. The way to a better future is not to lock ourselves into some cycle of poverty but to create an environment (preferably comfortably cool) where we can come up with the ideas and advancements that will render today’s problems into non-issues tomorrow.
It takes a certain arrogance to imagine that we are at the peak of civilization. There’s a charming urban legend about how the patent office was going to close at the end of the 19th century because there was “nothing left to invent.” Imagine a world with no cars, no computers, and yes, no air conditioning. It’s eerily close to some environmentalists’ dreams. But it would be a simpler time in which we all fled DC in the summer for fear of malaria and smallpox and lived with the darker disease of a future without any the redemption of advancement. Personally, I’ll keep my air conditioning.