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Air Conditioning and Its Discontents

Air conditioningSo here we are, dancing through springtime, the northern hemisphere of our lovely planet tilting (or maybe skidding) back toward the sun again, birds singing romantic songs, trees beginning to bud, green, real green as the German poet Rilke called it.

Yet in the middle of this glorious rebirth of nature, green thoughts in a green shade turn to summer and air conditioning and the fossil fuels to power it that will further warm the plane, which will continue to increase demand for air conditioning until the air-conditioning market in northern Siberia and Alaska becomes a significant source of economic growth for the manufacturing sector in Honduras, which has been reeling in the wake of floods and hurricanes caused by global warming. Do we really need this?

Air conditioning in the U.S., which only began to be considered "essential" in the 1960s, now demands the energy equivalent of 4.4 billion gallons of oil, more than 5 days' worth of the oil we burn in the U.S. That's so much oil it's almost impossible to imagine. Enough for one person to gas up her car for 7,000,000 years.

It costs you plenty, too. The average utility bill in the U.S. is $1500, and air-conditioning can account for as much as 60% of this, or $900 a year.

So, whether you want to save the planet from suffocation, or just cut down on your bills, there are a lot of things you can, short of simply getting rid of your air conditioner

1) Turn air conditioning off when you're not at home. It takes a lot more energy to maintain a cool temperature all the time than to chill down when you're actually at home.

2) Set it so the temperature is 78 inside or higher when you are at home.

3) Install ceiling fans. These cost very little to operate, but can make even the most heat-sensitive people feel comfortable enough that they don't need air conditioning.

4) Duh. Draw the curtains to keep the sun out

5) Plant some shade trees if you don't have any.

Of course there are many higher-tech solutions, like the one used by global-warming denier George W. Bush himself, whose house is cooled by a geothermal system where liquid is chilled in underground pipes and the pumped up to air condition the rich boy's ranch residence. It takes 25 to 70% less energy pump the cool liquid than to run an air conditioning system. The underground temperature everywhere ranges from 50 to 70 degrees year round, so these systems can be used for both heating and cooling. Even in a northern state like Wisconsin, once you get 4 feet below the surface, the underground temperature is 50, considerably warm than winter outside, and what was source of cool air in the summer becomes a source of warmth in the winter.

There are dozens of other ideas for keeping cool, provided free of charge from your very own government at

Another good site—although they do get carried away, even to the point of recommending abstinence from alcohol to make you feel cooler—is 

April 4, 2007


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