It's August, which means most of us are feeling not unlike a Hershey bar in a pizza oven. What a relief to get home, crank up the AC — and damn the world to ever steamier summers.
Yes, this is a column about the downside of that delicious rush of arctic air when you step in from the summer inferno. And I write it not just because I'm the one who's always wearing a sweater and complaining about how cold it is in the office.
I realize that life can be pretty miserable without air conditioning, and an un-air-conditioned bus or subway equals commuter fondue. For the sick and the elderly, AC may even be a lifesaver. But one-sixth of the electricity we use in America — more than all the electricity used in India — goes to air conditioning. Generating that power adds to global warming, which means that summers are going to keep getting hotter — until the polar ice caps melt and we're just as cool as can be, because we're living underwater.
Until then, shouldn't you throw out your window unit — provided no one is standing directly underneath it?
You bet your sweaty buns. But if you're like most people, you won't — unless you start thinking about all the ways air conditioning has made us a lonelier, chubbier, less fulfilled country.
The loneliness factor is obvious. Just look at how we spend our season (not) in the sun. Before the advent of air conditioning, summer was one big block party, with neighbors gossiping, hydrants spewing and lots of shrieking — the good kind. Now those same revelers stay inside Googling "fun" and wondering why they never have any.
Then they snack.
So which is better for everyone involved, dipping another chip into dip or dipping a toe into the local pool, stream or puddle of hydrant water? Which one is going to give you a bigger gut? Maybe one reason we're all blimping up (besides being told to eat carbs instead of fat — but that's for another column) is the AC that keeps us in the living room instead of heading out to toss a Frisbee.
We used to spend summers outside. Now the great outdoors seems too hot compared with our climate-controlled homes and the frosty stores beckoning us inside. So instead of playing, we end up paying. We'd have been better off just hanging out on the porch.
Except the porch is gone! Another victim of AC! Shade, who needs it anymore? Once builders started to depend on AC, they stopped designing homes that cool off naturally — and cheaply. Commercial developers stopped, too. Out went the blueprints for buildings shaped like a T, H or L to promote cross ventilation. Stark towers sprang up, their windows sealed shut. These behemoths trap so much heat that parts of the 108-story Willis Tower in Chicago have to be air-conditioned even when outside it is zero degrees (which, as a Chicago native, I can tell you is September to April).
During weeks like this one — the mercury keeps hitting the 90s by me — AC sounds pretty good. But there are ways you can feel cool without wasting so much energy and money. Don't leave the AC on when you're not at home. Use fans when you can stand it a little warmer. And then — get out there! To the park or pool or single remaining porch. This is August, not January. Sizzle away! You'll be shivering soon enough.
Especially those of you in Chicago.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids" and a hilarious keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Run out and get her book "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.