As summer reaches peak heat, a recent piece in Time magazine on air conditioning exemplifies the rot pervading academia and threatening the nation.
Eric Dean Wilson, an instructor and graduate student at City University of New York, wrote about how air conditioning will destroy the planet. His essay demonstrates the confluence of such intellectually fashionable ideas as environmentalist extremism, critical race theory, equity, and the condemnation of capitalism and “white supremacy.”
Wilson has no training in climate science or mechanical engineering. Yet he teaches “climate-themed writing and environmental justice” at the City University of New York. Wilson describes his recent book, After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort, as “a look at air conditioning’s contribution to climate violence, and a critique of the American addiction to personal comfort.”
According to that critique, inventors developed “mechanical cooling,” as Wilson described it in his Time article, to help business. As air conditioning became more widespread and available for homes, it “conveyed class status” that “often fell starkly along the color line, too, especially in the South” while “cleaving the world into civilized cooling and barbaric heat,” he wrote.
Though Wilson offers some technological alternatives, he believes the ultimate solution lies beyond science: “Renewable energy infrastructure can take us only so far. The rest of the work is cultural.”
That view reflects Wilson’s solution: enacting policies that emphasize public comfort over personal comfort, such as “ensuring that the most vulnerable among the planet’s human inhabitants can keep cool through better access to public cooling centers, shade-giving trees, safe green spaces, water infrastructure to cool, and smart design,” he wrote.
Wilson’s conclusion not only summarizes the worldview of the fashionably “woke.” It also reflects their panic.
“Privatized air conditioning survived the ozone crisis, but its power to separate — by class, by race, by nation, by ability — has survived, too,” he wrote. “Comfort for some comes at the expense of the life on this planet. It’s time we became more comfortable with discomfort. Our survival may depend on it.”
Yet several realities intrude on Wilson’s dreams of utopian justice.
Those realities include two he concedes: Air conditioning increased productivity and created new possibilities. It protected such commodities as cotton that were vulnerable to prolonged heat, thus improving the transportation, quantity, and quality of available goods. It enabled extremely hot, humid places to be inhabited, thus reducing population density. It allowed people to gain more control over their own lives.
More importantly, air conditioning has helped save lives. Before the advent of “mechanical cooling,” severe heat waves could prove deadly. In France in 1911, more than 41,000 people died from a heat wave that lasted from early July to mid-September. For 15 consecutive days, Paris got no cooler than 86 degrees. In London, Bordeaux, and Lyon, temperatures reached 104 degrees. Most of those who died were elderly or children younger than 2 years old. Because of that heat wave, infant mortality increased 20 percent.
Unfortunately for Wilson’s theories, the reality is that every innovation or invention discussed in his piece arose from the natural human desire to make things more efficient, better, healthier, simpler, easier — and, yes, more comfortable. Wilson’s demand for others to become comfortable with discomfort not only ignores the spirit that led to human progress. It rejects that spirit.
His “solution” — to become comfortable with discomfort — is a command to abandon initiative and imagination and to submit blindly to a collective will. Corporate tyrannies use that imperative to impose themselves on their frustrated subjects, who would have no means for redress.
Ultimately, Wilson’s desired utopia has nothing to do with environmental reform or social justice. It has everything to do with centralized power enforcing a bland mediocrity that mitigates against excellence, let alone progress.
Like other utopian ideologues, Wilson and his “woke” comrades appear willing to sacrifice humanity on the altar of their cherished fantasies.
Joseph D’Hippolito is a conservative writer whose commentaries have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Federalist, Jerusalem Post, and National Post, among other outlets.