'Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World'
Environmental and political writer Stan Cox takes air conditioning to trial, using hot eco-topics to hand down a guilty verdict.
Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 10:29 AM
For many Americans, from mid-June to mid-September the AC runs full tilt and there’s not really much thought given to it until the bill arrives. But even then most families bite the bullet and keep that cool air flowing.
Enter Stan Cox, whose first book, “Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine,” challenged all Americans to take a closer look at how corporate food and medicine are destroying environments and ruining living conditions across the world.
In “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer)," Cox lays out a convincing portrait of the evils caused by air conditioning — from overdeveloped landscapes in the hottest climates to a dangerous overload of power supplies with no relief in sight.
“Slashing energy consumption will not only make it much easier to satisfy the remaining demand with renewable generation; it will also help prevent further damage to what’s left of the biological world,” Cox writes. He calls for sweeping economic and political changes to curtail the damage to our planet, and posits that to make the job more manageable, a lower-energy society is necessary.
Readers are reminded of the surprisingly pleasant outcome of citywide power outages in recent years —families getting out and socializing with neighbors, and spending quality time together without the interference of electronic entertainment and energy-hungry cooling devices.
So why pick on air conditioning when there are so many other environmental disasters? Cox refers to air conditioning as one of society’s top energy guzzlers, and uses pages of facts and statistics to prove his point. One wonders how sitting in his 90-degree home in Salinas, Kansas, Cox was able to gather so many mind-numbing facts and statistics without losing his cool.
But gather he did, and the outcome is 155 pages full of facts, figures and brief forays into the history and development of the country, from Arizona to Detroit, from poor neighborhoods to wealthy ones. The author dances from hot environmental topics to well-known societal changes, linking an overdependence on energy-draining devices to the decrease in live socializing.
Cox blasts indoor play places, too much homework, and overprotective societies for taking nature out of the typical American family life. He writes that living in homes and cars that are sealed tight against accidental encounters with nature over-sensitizes our bodies to the point that they are unable to withstand severe temperatures.
To be fair, Cox refers to the lives saved by air conditioning in sweltering temperatures, and the unfortunate loss of life of those who don’t have it. And reading the book one doesn’t get the sense that the author advocates tossing all units in a nearby recycling bin. He merely suggests, nay, demands, that Americans open their minds to a new way of thinking that will ensure a healthier future for people and planet.
The author practices what he preaches. In a recent visit to his home by a New York Times writer, Cox and his wife are described as cool and fresh, with nary a drop of sweat on their brow. Circulating fans, moving through the home to avoid the sun’s rays, and a healthy diet all contribute to their ability to comfortably enjoy the summer. It may not be for everyone, but change can be implemented in any home at some level.
Cox concludes his book by outlining and reviewing ways to keep cool, reduce heat loads and save energy. From roof vegetation to sustained air movement (aka fans), appropriately sized units and simply using only what we need, the author cites an extensive list of both proven and novel methods of cooling that don’t drain power plants or our wallets.
“Losing Our Cool” is not an easy read, but a valuable one, and the reward is a healthy shift in attitude toward many of the modern conveniences and societal changes that have wreaked subtle havoc on our bodies and our lives.
Thumbnail photo: molamoni/Flickr