Goosebumps in summer
July 31, 2006, 12:51 am by Jess. Filed under: seasons, summer.

No, it’s not from the thrill of warm-weather romance (unfortunately).

In summer, I always have two outfits on hand (or on body). One is cotton and as skimpy as societal norms will allow; the other is woolen and as long as long-sleeved can be. The former is for walking to my destination, whether it be a movie theater, a library, or an office; the latter is for being in my destination. The drastic temperature differential between indoor and outdoor spaces leads to much bothersome, chafing, and eyeglass-discombobulating donning and undonning on my part.

Me after wrestling with a tight neckhole; Photo by homegirl Carolyn Eckrich

To be fair, I err on the chilly side. (My mom, when I was new to this world, asked the pediatrician why I always looked slightly purple. The doctor responded that I had not yet adjusted to postnatal circulation. But nothing ever changed, so I guess I’m still adjusting.) But I also grew up in the Northeastern United States, so I am used to frigid, snowy weather. And though I have no official data, I have heard, over the years, similar reports from people of various body types and stages of fetal development: air-conditioned buildings are too freakin’ cold!

While entering a Whole Foods this weekend, I noticed that all the doors were opened up, allowing cooled air to stream outside wastefully. While inside, I felt like a head of iceberg lettuce and ended up purchasing a dozen cans of chicken noodle soup due to hypothermic delusions. Whole Foods is taking steps to alleviate its hypocrisy, but not in the A/C department.

Summer in the developed world; Photo by flickr member AndrewEick--thank you

I realize that process air-conditioning is crucial to keeping assembly lines at optimal temperatures and humidity levels for churning out the gadgets, gizmos, doohickies and dildos that we all need and love. I also realize that cracking a window in the Big & Tall buildings (those with 1000 stories or 1,000,000,000 square feet) just doesn’t do the trick. And I sympathize with the thousands of nonagenarians who just don’t sweat as effectively as they used to. But how about a little compromise?

The Japanese, ahead of us as usual, launched the Cool Biz campaign in government offices last summer to reduce energy consumption from air conditioners. White-collar government workers were encouraged to lose the traditional suits and dress more casually, while thermostats in office buildings were set to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. This simple change saved an estimated 460,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the summer of 2005.

In addition to giving us gooseflesh and devouring energy, air conditioning divorces people from the community. Folks who work in climate controlled buildings are excluded from the bitching that unites us all against a common enemy: heat. And what ever happened to block parties?

Photo by flickr member ASNA_Chicago--thank you

Frankly, I’m amazed that more Americans aren’t up in arms about A/C. Because contrary to popular belief, air conditioners are actually out to heat things up:

-The enormous (fossil fuel) energy demand of air conditioners contributes to global warming

-Air conditioners have already tried to warm up the planet through the use of ozone-depleting CFCs

-The energy demand of air conditioners can overtax the grid during peak summer temperatures, leading to power outages during which people die of heat exhaustion

-Air conditioners are composed of a hot side and a cold side. The heat from the compression of Freon gas is discharged outside the air-conditioned area, adding to the discomfort of those of us outside the cool bubble

-The Rise of Air-conditioning may have produced more Conservatives. And we all know how comfortable they are with climate change

I propose that we start a movement to subversively reverse all air conditioners, so that the hot side is on the inside. Are you with me? If this post does not motivate you to turn up your thermostat, write to your representative, or flip your neighbor’s A/C unit while laughing nastily to yourself, I hope it at least illuminates one of the absurdities of our modern world. Imagine telling someone 200 years ago that we would be wearing sweaters in August. Ha.

jump to post comment

i enjoyed this essay. when i lived in new orleans i constantly wore a sweatshirt around my waist even in the 95 degree humid heat because 5 minutes after entering an air conditioned building i would be freezing.

also, upon leaving the theater after watching an inconvenient truth, my (somewhat spacy) friend unironically remarked “that made me want to get an air-conditioner”. oh well…

Comment by pac on 08.08.2006 um 5:46 pm

You know, some bloggers just aren’t concerned about proper production conditions for gadgets, gizmos, doohickies and [most important of all when it comes to quality control, and i am NOT just joking] dildos, but thank God we have an exception here.

There has been a ton of talk on the environmental blogs lately about A/C, for example this  and this   . A/C is somewhat absurdly cold and consistent. Compare it to living completely outside, being buffeted by conditions. Spend a day in the desert and you will be baked during the day and frozen at night. In the distant past people obviously got sick of this and started coming up with clever ways of mollifying those environmental extremes. Some great traditions came out of that… knitting by the pot-bellied stove, running through sprinklers, sitting on wrap-around porches, etc. You still felt the heat (or the cold) but you got a local, temporary respite from the extremes. It was a sensual pleasure. A fire gave life. A dip in the stream refreshed.

Now cheap energy and modern materials have made it possible to completely flatten out that up and down agitation of temperature. Besides being inefficient, it’s just weird for everything to always be the same temperature. It’s like living without ever seeing the sun — you never know what time it is, and it’s hard to sleep. Compare that to camping when you’ve forgotten your lantern and your flashlight — the light dies away so slowly, so quietly, it just sucks you right into the vortex of Nod. Aah.

As for the thermodyamics of turning houses into heat sinks, my training in physics would make me doubt it, except for the night I spent in some god forsaken Motel 6 somewhere in southern Oregon. It CAN be done. It would have been cooler to sleep on the hot plate in the motel office.

Comment by bottleman on 08.08.2006 um 6:53 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I wonder, too, if the typically cold environment of movie theaters affects how viewers experience that movie, if even a little.
Good observations. My boyfriend, whose innate nightowlism was worsened living for years in always-light NYC, used to fall asleep at 9 when we were out camping. The power of the natural incremental darkening you mentioned.

Comment by Jess on 11.08.2006 um 9:10 am

Air Conditioning is probably a large factor behind the mass migrations on retirees and so many others to the south. Like so many things in this country, we’re bad at moderation. Stop hitting the buffets when you eat multiple plates just to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, stop driving your car across town to find cheaper gas, and stop turning your AC on 68 because you like to cuddle under your quilts. Here in Dallas, a recent newspaper article highlighted the increasing foreclosure rates and the problems people are having because their electricity bills are getting higher than their mortgages. There’s no excuse for wearing sweaters in our hottest July since 1936 (my office is cold!); economics will hopefully correct what common sense cannot.

Comment by Jennifer on 28.08.2006 um 9:10 pm

Hey Jennifer! Yeah, you’re right, besides spewing CO2, AC really has changed the culture of the South. (I remember Gene Siskel once hypothesizing that there weren’t “hot summer” scenes in movies anymore because of AC, and Roger Ebert writing it off, but now I’m not so sure..) I wonder how things would change without AC.

In general our critique here (also the critique on other enviroblogs) seems to have this premise: AC is a luxury needed only for comfort. There’s an implied message that it’s different than heat– something Northerners need for survival. A southerner might have the opposite view. How much heat would we be willing to give up to show our money’s where our mouths are? For myself, I’d need at least one room that I could heat up to toasty (that is, excessive) temperatures. The rest could go back to Victorian levels of comfort (50s?), but when I crave heat it feels like I need it to live.

Comment by bottleman on 29.08.2006 um 4:46 pm