The Spectacle Blog

Not Too Cool

By on 7.6.10 | 10:04AM

With a massive heat wave underway in the Northeast (temperatures are expected to reach 103 degrees here in DC), Salon is promoting a new book that argues for reducing our dependence on air conditioning:

(A)s science writer Stan Cox argues in his new book, "Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer)," the dizzying rise of air conditioning comes at a steep personal and societal price. We stay inside longer, exercise less, and get sick more often -- and the electricity used to power all that A.C. is helping push the fast-forward button on global warming. The invention has also changed American politics: Love it or hate it, refrigerated cooling has been a major boon to the Republican Party. The advent of A.C. helped launch the massive Southern and Western population growth that's transformed our electoral map in the last half century. Cox navigates all of these scientific and social angles with relative ease, providing a clear explanation of how A.C. made the leap from luxury to necessity in the United States and examining how we can learn to manage the addiction before we refrigerate ourselves into the apocalypse.

You can read an interview with Cox here.

I couldn't help but be reminded of this story from a few summers ago (emphasis mine):

PARIS (AP) - The death toll in France from August's blistering heat wave has reached nearly 15,000, according to a government-commissioned report released Thursday, surpassing a prior tally by more than 3,000....

The bulk of the victims -- many of them elderly -- died during the height of the heat wave, which brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 degrees in a country where air conditioning is rare. Others apparently were greatly weakened during the peak temperatures but did not die until days later.

Asked about how air conditioning makes people safer during heat waves, Cox acknowledges, "it does have a Jekyll-and-Hyde character in that respect." He then continues, "But I think we need to look at it is as a fail-safe mechanism and recognize that a lot of the health problems that we need A.C. to solve, it may have contributed to in the first place. We need to look at the conditions under which people die in heat waves, the harsh life conditions that they're enduring more generally. That's the real root of the problem."

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