Americans have become far too reliant on air-conditioning, says Stan Cox in The Washington Post. At home and at work, our lives would be a lot more civilized and sustainable if we eschewed energy-hogging A.C. and relied instead on more time-tested techniques for staying cool. "Shorter summer business hours and month-long closings -- common in pre-air-conditioned America" -- would become the norm again (siesta, anyone?). And "rather than cowering alone in chilly home-entertainment rooms," people would spend more time outside, grilling and getting to know their neighbors. All in all, "saying goodbye to air conditioning means saying hello to the world." Here's an excerpt:
Washington didn't grind to a sweaty halt last week under triple-digit temperatures. People didn't even slow down. Instead, the three-day, 100-plus-degree, record-shattering heat wave prompted Washingtonians to crank up their favorite humidity-reducing, electricity-bill-busting, fluorocarbon-filled appliance: the air conditioner.
This isn't smart. In a country that's among the world's highest greenhouse-gas emitters, air conditioning is one of the worst power-guzzlers. The energy required to air-condition American homes and retail spaces has doubled since the early 1990s. Turning buildings into refrigerators burns fossil fuels, which emits greenhouse gases, which raises global temperatures, which creates a need for -- you guessed it -- more air-conditioning.
A.C.'s obvious public-health benefits during severe heat waves do not justify its lavish use in everyday life for months on end. Less than half a century ago, America thrived with only the spottiest use of air conditioning. It could again.