Thursday, August 07, 2008

Five Degrees of Separation...from Reality

The Dallas Morning News" Jacquielynn Floyd points out a recent article by Joe Klein of TIME Magazine that basically calls air conditioners unnecessary. Here's Klein:
The unnecessary refrigeration of America has become a chronic disease. It seems to have gotten worse over the past few years, with thermostats routinely set at 68deg.F, and sometimes even 65 deg., in the (far too many) hotel rooms I've suffered on the campaign trail. "Americans seem to keep their houses cooler in summer than they do in the winter," muses Edward Parson, an environmental expert at the University of Michigan Law School. But it's hard to know for sure, since there are no comprehensive studies that measure air-conditioning trend lines.

I will confess a bias here. I love warm weather, even when it slouches toward humidity. I detest the harsh, slightly metallic quality of the air forced through even the fanciest AC systems. The only air conditioner I own sits, unused, in my car; my home is happily unrefrigerated. But given the energy mess we're in, I can now gild my personal preference with a patina of high-mindedness: air-conditioning is bad for the planet, and for national security, and for our balance-of-payments deficit. Unfortunately, it is not as bad as I'd like it to be — in part because not all of our electricity is provided by fossil fuels (although coal does predominate). And also because air-conditioning represents a relatively small slice of our energy use, an estimated 4%.
So what's Klein's suggested solution?
I'd like to see both [presidential] candidates call for an immediate 5deg.F thermostat adjustment, just to get the conservation ball rolling — and because it would be a "personal virtue" for each candidate to ask it of us. And I'd like to wish you all a nice, warmer summer.
Back here in the Dallas area, DMN columnist Floyd takes Klein to task:
I had the kind of summer he evidently envisions. Once. As a young, typically broke adult, I spent a blistering Austin summer living in a ragged, un-air-conditioned rent house. Every night, we would slap wet towels over ourselves to get to sleep, waking up every hour or so to soak the towels down again. I'm nostalgic about a lot of things, but not that.

Mr. Klein, according to his biography, lives in Westchester County, N.Y., where the expected high temperature on Monday was 85 degrees (for those of you confined to subterranean silos, ours was expected to reach 108). He does not say whether he intends to endure next winter without running the heat.

I'm not insensible to the need for conservation. We've made voluntary concessions at our house – sharing rides, using DART, declining plastic bags, watching our water usage.

Asking us to pull this particular plug, though, is asking too much.

They'll get my A/C when they pry my cold, dead fingers off the thermostat.
Well said. You'd think someone like Klein, who actually does get out of the New York bubble if he's covering the campaign trail, would realize that a one-size-fits-all "solution" doesn't work in a country with weather as varied as ours.

Not to mention that it's rather unsafe to turn off the AC for an extended time in this part of the country in the summer. As Newsbusters' Tim Graham points out, "the opposite of air-conditioning can be heat-wave deaths."

The thermostat in Casa de Kev is set to 78 degrees in summer. There's no way in the world I would set it to 83; it would probably start to damage the electronic equipment in the house, and it would definitely be too hot to sleep. Sure, the utility bill that just arrived in my mailbox today is pretty high, but, like Floyd, I'm trying to conserve in other ways. It's nearly impossible to live in this part of the country without AC; it's no coincidence that the population of this region was rather small before its invention.

If Klein really wants to make this into a North vs. South debate, it should be noted that even he concedes that heating represents nearly twice the drain on energy that air conditioning does. Floyd makes a good point: Is Klein willing to make the same sort of sacrifice in winter that he's asking of Southerners in summer? (Using my own winter setting--68--as a benchmark, raise your hand if you think that the Klein abode will really be set at 63 in a few months.)

And if you live in this area like I do, offer up a silent bit of praise to Willis Carrier, whose invention of the "Apparatus for Treating Air" made it possible to live here in comfort.

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