A/C: the problem began with paper, but the solution changed the world
May 22, 2016 10:17 AM   Subscribe

 
Not inspired by twelve hours of air conditioner sounds, but a timely coincidence in my interest in knowing about "cities that wouldn't exist without the advent of A/C" (5th link in the OP).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ah yaas, the two ages of the Southwest, BC and AC...
posted by tspae at 10:30 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Interestingly, my colleagues weren't commenting on the Southwest (where we reside, though we're mostly in the higher altitudes, with more mild summer highs), but on the humid South and Florida. But maybe we're biased, as some of us have left those areas for this.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:41 AM on May 22, 2016


Speaking as someone living in a place with average summer temperatures in the upper 30's, and humidity that's typically upwards of 80%, while I recognize the problems of air conditioning I think I'd have to move to a more reasonable place if I didn't have it.
posted by sotonohito at 10:42 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, the refrigerator magnets from ASHRAE conventions I have collected.

"The engineers thought the idea had merit, and could be rigged easily and inexpensively. They made a few drawings and produced a prototype that they tested in Garfield’s sickroom. Within a few hours, the temperature dropped to a more comfortable 75o.

The concept formed the basis for air conditioning units that are used even to this day. You wouldn’t recognize it – but the concept is there, and it is still valid."
posted by clavdivs at 10:46 AM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


"many Europeans prefer sweating for a few days over continuously suffering under the effects of global warming in the future."
posted by fairmettle at 10:47 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I live in Houston.

I laugh at people who tut-tut AC. Honestly, it's as much the humidity reduction as the temperature control for places like this.
posted by uberchet at 11:26 AM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Europeans unable to understand the temperature extremes of North America are about as annoying (and comical) as Europeans who don't get that Niagara Falls and NYC are about an entire UK apart.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:28 AM on May 22, 2016 [31 favorites]


It's hard to understand the realities of living in a continental climate or on an East-facing coast when you live on a West-facing peninsula.

A lot of the inefficiency is due to the poor building practices found in the US, with such creatures as the ductopus found even in high-end homes, lack of insulation, leaky ducts, crappy windows, etc. etc.

Cheap energy also has something to do with it, as does relatively cheap land. Why invest in insulation and airtightness when the payback is measured in decades and you're building tract homes on razor-thing margins?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:40 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Europeans unable to understand the temperature extremes of North America are about as annoying (and comical) as Europeans who don't get that Niagara Falls and NYC are about an entire UK apart.

There's also the annoying variety of American who align themselves with that group ideologically then judge anyone who has ac. This is especially common when the person is from a city with a relatively mild climate and just makes the connection of like "ac = gross American excess"

This is doubly bad in places where it isn't 100 all summer, but it can hit 85-90 and get over 100 in your crappy apartment. Suffering is more ~authentic~ and artisanal I guess.
posted by emptythought at 11:56 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore claimed that air-con was the most important invention of the 1900s:

The humble air conditioner has changed the lives of people in the tropical regions. Before air-con, mental concentration and with it the quality of work deteriorated as the day got hotter and more humid. After lunch, business in many tropical countries stopped until the cooler hours of the late afternoon.

Historically, advanced civilizations have flourished in the cooler climates. Now lifestyles have become comparable to those in temperate zones, and civilization in the tropical zones need no longer lag behind.

posted by macrael at 11:57 AM on May 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


Europeans unable to understand the temperature extremes of North America are about as annoying (and comical) as Europeans who don't get that Niagara Falls and NYC are about an entire UK apart.

Indeed.

Now, you could make an argument about the wisdom of building major cities in, say, any part of Florida. But, given that those cities exist and people have to live in them, forcing them to do so without air conditioning is just too cruel.

If you've never lived in a place where "winter" means "two weeks where the night time temperature drops below 80F", you'll never be able to understand this.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Ah yaas, the two ages of the Southwest, BC and AC..."

Yeah, I agree with filthy light thief. This is probably not quite as true in some of the lower elevation Sonoran desert cities where highs regularly surpass 115F, but where I grew up at higher elevations, the fact that the air was very dry made mid-90s temps to be completely tolerable. Almost no one I knew growing up had refrigerated central air -- if people had A/C at all, they had a single evaporative cooler that they only used on the hottest days. That's still true, in my experience, for probably half of the people who live in Albuquerque.

A/C in either homes or cars has been, in my personal experience, only "required" when I've lived in more humid climates. When I moved to Dallas in 1983 when I was eighteen, the humid heat there came as a huge shock to me. In Albuquerque, when the temperature is, say, 95F, I'll still just roll the windows down in my car. When I lived in Austin, or here now in Kansas City, that's not tolerable, at least not for more than a few minutes. I didn't grow up with A/C, home or car, and I prefer open windows. But that just doesn't work for me with temps in the mid-90s and 50% humidity. Honestly, I just don't like humidity. I couldn't have lived or worked in Austin without A/C in the summer.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:27 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


There's also the annoying variety of American who align themselves with that group ideologically then judge anyone who has ac.

I've always lived in really hot cities and I still get annoyed with the amount of air conditioning. I love it when I'm trying to sleep, but I'm really annoyed when I feel like I need a jacket in stores and it's blistering hot out.

Honestly, it's as much the humidity reduction as the temperature control for places like this.

Yes, more than half the time we're only running it to get the humidity down long enough to stop the mold from taking over.
posted by bongo_x at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've spent the vast majority of my life either in Minneapolis or Tucson. I consider both to be uninhabitable six months a year without artificial temperature control, but no one ever seems to question the wisdom of living in the upper Midwest or of burning fossil fuels to stay alive.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 12:40 PM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


AC was one of the major factors in the decline of the Borscht Belt.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:47 PM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


If the temperature goes over 80F and/or the humidity is palpable and I don't have air conditioning, I don't breath very well, or sometimes at all. I have pretty severe asthma and I'm sorry not sorry that I literally need a/c to fucking survive. I cannot "just open a window" because the Earth wants to kill me, what with the pollen and grass and trees. I am fortunate to live in a part of the Midwest where, in a good year, we only need to run the a/c for about three to four months because of the heat and humidity. Walking from my car to my office in the summer leaves me gasping for air, and my asthma is very well managed.

So, please, by all means, tell me I'm ruining the world. That really helps.
posted by cooker girl at 12:47 PM on May 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


Speaking as someone living in a place with average summer temperatures in the upper 30's, and humidity that's typically upwards of 80%

Nope. That doesn't happen in the USA. Upper 30's celsius is about 100 deg. F. When the temperature is 100 degrees, there is no place in the USA with a relative humidity of 80% at the same time, because that would correspond to a dew point in the 90's, which doesn't happen. Unbearable humidity would correspond to a dew point of say 75. At 100 degrees that yields a relative humidity of about 45%. Even at a very extreme dew point of 80, at 100 degrees the relative humidity is only about 53%.

But that just doesn't work for me with temps in the mid-90s and 50% humidity.

Finally somebody gets it right!
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 12:48 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I live in a place where the temperature can vary between -40F and 110F. Since it's the land of 10,000 lakes, the humidity can turn people into human post-it notes and cause your car to drive funny. Good luck putting on a tshirt when it's 103 with a dewpoint in the 90s.

AnecdoteFilter: My parents somehow obtained a fake wood paneled window air conditioner from Sears when I was a boy. The thing had two settings. Off and meat locker. Mom and Pops used to put it in our (my little brother and my) bedroom, and sleep in there until it got too cold. The transition from 50F to 106F can be harsh.
posted by Sphinx at 12:52 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Good luck putting on a tshirt when it's 103 with a dewpoint in the 90s.

Again, this doesn't happen, in the USA anyway. This can happen along the coasts of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf in summer, but not in the USA
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:07 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Cheap energy also has something to do with it, as does relatively cheap land.

Yep. And sometimes both conspire against you. I'm trying to buy a house in metro Boston right now. Apparently I landed in a time warp and places (like the one I'm renting now) still get oil delivered by a truck. Like it's 1970 again. The price is god damned ridiculous!

My plan when we finally do buy a house is to look towards a ground based heat pump and putting in solar. The energy should be cheap enough that I can rip up the driveway, stick in a snow melting system and cover it back up again and still make my money back.

No plowing and the lowest heating bills in Massachusetts? That's the dream! I don't know why it wasn't made mandatory to use ground heat pumps a decade ago. They're so ridiculously efficient and don't require natural gas services (which most cities in MA are sorely lacking outside town centers).
posted by Talez at 1:18 PM on May 22, 2016


You know, reading people who collectively waste about 25% of the world's energy go on about how they have some sort of God given right to AC because reasons rubs me like 15 different wrong ways.
posted by signal at 1:50 PM on May 22, 2016 [15 favorites]


People lived and worked before air-con, and beautiful building typologies were created to counter both the heat and the cold.
Porches and screens are obvious elements of design, but floor-plan layout might also be a circumstance of warm weather.

Once, I had the luck to rent a renaissance villa in the Veneto in Italy. In September, the Veneto is hot and damp and infested by (potentially dangerous) mosquitos. But the building was designed to deal with it. Porches and shutters shaded the openings, and the whole building was oriented in a way so one could direct the air through it at night and cool down the stone floors and blow out any insects. The kitchen faced north, and overall the ceilings were high, so the heat could go up above our heads. In reality the whole house was a cooling, anti-insect machine, and if you learned to operate the openings and shutters correctly, you'd never experience an uncomfortable night or day.

You would experience nights, as people do in the south of Europe even today: everyone has a long lunch-break, when the heat is unbearable, and then works till after dark. Dinner might be at 9 or 10 PM.

In Spain, buildings are often very sophisticated, with ventilation funnels inside buildings and winter and summer rooms. In winter, you might use glazed terraces to make most of the sun, and during summer, you'll be deep inside windowless rooms ventilated by something like chimneys (not Spanish, don't know the terms).

I think the Spanish learnt this art of ventilation from the Moors, and in traditional North African houses, you'll see methods for ventilation without electricity that are highly efficient. Though I sense that a younger generation has no idea how this works, and are "breaking" the systems because they don't maintain them and use them properly.

In Europe and North Africa, the technologies for climate control are often based on the thermal properties of earth and stone. But in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, there are plenty climate regulating light constructions. The idea that people can only be productive in hot (or cold) climates with AC is offensive.

When I was a child, there was an idea that energy was cheap and endless, and buildings and cities were designed accordingly. It has turned out to be a false assumption - no big deal. Ground or air pumps are simple and inexpensive, and solar-power works even in Canada and Scandinavia.

Some buildings can be adapted to the new reality, others have to be replaced. This is how history has always been.
posted by mumimor at 2:00 PM on May 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


You know, reading people who collectively waste about 25% of the world's energy go on about how they have some sort of God given right to AC because reasons rubs me like 15 different wrong ways.

I didn't know that Chinese manufacturing plants were being represented in Metafilter comment threads now, but good for them.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:05 PM on May 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


"go on about how they have some sort of God given right to AC because reasons "

The reasons are that in the 2003 European heat wave, which brought Europe heat and humidity comparable to what large areas of the NORTHERN United States experiences every summer, SEVENTY THOUSAND PEOPLE DIED.

Like, yeah, we gotta build better and more efficient buildings with climate-friendly features, but the the difference between 70,000ish Americans dying from heat every single summer and the usual 200ish is largely A/C. (And, indeed, the deadliest American heat waves are the ones where poor electrical grid management leads to power outages along with the heat waves, like the Chicago 1995 heat wave where 600 died because ComEd sucks.)

"Everybody move north!" is fine, but most of the US is a continental climate; it's fucking miserable in Minnesota in July. There's only so far north you can go, and you're still not escaping the brutal heat. We can't all move to California with its nice coastal climate -- they don't have a lot of water there. Here in the corn belt, 90-degree July and August is the price we pay for being the breadbasket of the world. It's great for the corn! We are the most photosynthetically productive land in the world! It's rough on the humans.

"Everyone drop dead from the heat, or else abandon the world's most productive farmland so that people all over the world drop dead" are two very bad solutions.

That last article is pretty terrible because it fails to adequately recognize either the climactic differences between the US and Europe or the historical contingencies that led to different building strategies -- or the consequences of large-scale loss of A/C in the US continental climate, which we saw so horribly demonstrated in Europe in 2003. I feel like we can talk about strategies to reduce reliance on A/C without being cavalier about the fact that it can literally be a life-and-death issue and isn't just "cultural wussiness about heat."

(When I worked for the school district, we had un-airconditioned buildings, and we had actuaries that could tell us approximately how many five-year-olds would go to the hospital, and how many would simply die, if we opened school when it was 95 degrees at noon. That's how hot it is. Children die, and given a sufficiently large population, we can predict how many. People every year would go on about how "SIXTY YEARS AGO WE WENT TO SCHOOL IN NINETY BILLION DEGREE HEAT AND WE LIKED IT!" but 60 years ago the childhood death rate from heatstroke was also significantly higher, and children with heat-exacerbated conditions, such as asthma, often died before they were five and able to enroll in school. (Also, medically fragile children, which included anybody local authorities said it did, had no right to go to school at all, in a pre-special-ed era, so kids most affected by heat, if they didn't die very young, just weren't allowed to go to school. So, yes, if school is only for the robust, then fine.) So I just get kinda worked up when people act like it's wussiness not to open school when it will kill children, rather than a long and hard-fought public health battle to reduce childhood mortality.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:27 PM on May 22, 2016 [52 favorites]


I spent 10th grade at Dugway Army Post in Dugway Utah, at about 5200 feet above sea level and so dry that traditional air conditioning was pointless - it didn't work. Officer's housing had swamp coolers, A/C connected into the water supply, but my dad didn't rate that so we dealt with 110F highs with no AC. I don't remember being miserable, because of the lack of humidity. One year later we move to a South Pacific island where the all time high was only 91 or so, and all time low somewhere in the 70s. But the humidity...I can't imagine living there without AC. Sure it's possible, the Marines that took the Island from Japan in WWII didn't have AC, but I'm not sure I would.
posted by COD at 2:50 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


You know, reading people who collectively waste about 25% of the world's energy go on about how they have some sort of God given right to AC because reasons rubs me like 15 different wrong ways.

Is death a good enough reason for you? I don't have a God given right to a/c but I thank god that it exists and I'm pretty sure my loved ones are happy I'm not dead and I'm a productive member of society even though I need a/c in the summer to, you know, NOT DIE.
posted by cooker girl at 2:57 PM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Each summer from 1986 through 1990 I made excellent money combating humidity with a 30 inch long 1 inch diameter steel pipe while working at the Molson's Brewery in Toronto.

The humidity would warp the elastic bound paper label bundles. Before these labels could be glued to the bottles inside the humid 30C+ conditions of the bottling plant they had to be made uniform with a perfect curve so that they could be put into the cartridge that fed them to the labeling machine. Curve not perfect? Then you have 600 labels a minute sticking to the rubber label roller that was supposed to just put a layer of glue on the label. To slow to turn your machine off? That roller - an $800 part would have a groove chewed in it and the 1/3 of the labeling production line would be down for a few hours while mechanics switched it out.

So we beat the labels into shape with a whack or two from a steel pipe. It took a week to learn, about a month to master and more than a summer before full-timers would let a summer student cover for them during a break. Some guys never got the knack no matter how hard they tried.

The full-timers used to joke that summer students could go work the off-season in the seal fur harvest because of our facility with whacking things with pipes.

Then the skill became obsolete because painted labels and foil labels that didn't warp came out and the last few months involved me mostly just watching painted bottles spin through labeling machines that were doing nothing other than moving the bottles along to the next step in the packaging process.

(That job is also where I became a crack shot with folded labels and elastics. I could hit a cockroach at about 10 feet and a coworker at about 25 feet).
posted by srboisvert at 2:59 PM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I accept the need for air conditioning in, say, Phoenix. What baffles me is people who demand it in Seattle, where I live. Frequently these are folks who have not even attempted more reasonable solutions like ceiling fans.

Why is this stupid? A fan uses about a hundred watts; an air conditioner, upwards of a thousand (frequently a couple thousand). So air conditioning not only makes the globe warmer (a stupid solution for the problem of feeling too warm), but does so far more than most household appliances.
posted by splitpeasoup at 3:05 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's been hot in Seattle the last few years.
posted by wotsac at 3:55 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Keeping indoor spaces cooled down to 65 degrees is not necessary to prevent death. Thankfully it seems to be much less prevalent in NYC at least, but it's still fairly common. This is what Europeans are reacting to, they are not calling for us to die.

I have a friend who refuses to turn on air conditioning in their house unless it's at least 90 degrees inside. I have learned to politely decline dinner invitations in the summer.

However, I think it's stupid that I have to carry a sweater in my bag all summer because you never know when you're going to be stuck in a freezer.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:01 PM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I love air conditioning when I need it, but prefer not to need it. Unfortunately, my current building is designed so that you basically have to run it. The windows open about six inches (one in each room), and it's a giant building that retains a ton of heat (it was 80 inside during February with the windows open). I'm not an A/C hater, but I wish I could use it less.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:03 PM on May 22, 2016


Europeans unable to understand the temperature extremes of North America are about as annoying (and comical) as Europeans who don't get that Niagara Falls and NYC are about an entire UK apart.

The first time my parents came to visit me when I lived in England was during a freak one week 30C+ heatwave. For the next seven years they never visited me in the summer again despite being from Toronto (It's not the heat it's the humidity country) and being the kind of people who don't even think to turn on the A/C until it is 30C after dark.

England over 30C was really seriously fucking unbearable. We hung blackout curtains up to try and block the sun on our windows. I think the entire population of the Midlands eventually just crammed themselves into Birmingham's Bullring shopping center during that heatwave.

They best hope that global climate change doesn't alter those sweet ocean currents they have too badly or some of their risque pub names might just come all too true.
posted by srboisvert at 4:09 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Greetings from tropical Australia, where a late-season low pressure system provided us with over 5 inches of rain in the last two days, and the fact that my AC dehumidifies my whole house is the only thing preventing my entire house from becoming a giant mold colony. It's not too hot right now, but every piece of paper in the house feels damp to the touch and I'm chasing spots of mold on furniture, clothing, backpacks, etc with clove oil as fast as I can.

I grew up in Ohio with parents who liked to keep the house at 64 year round and yeah, that's an egregious use of air conditioning and they should have kept it set at more reasonable temperatures in the summer, but at the same time my father had debilitating seasonal allergies (he actually got a medical discharge from the Air Force because they prevented him from flying for 3 months out of the year, even with treatment) and so having the windows open was simply not an option for health reasons.

There is plenty to be said for the design of energy efficient housing, of housing that takes advantage of placement and orientation to block sunlight and encourage breezes, of all of those things. But humidity can be unbearable (and can destroy quite a few of your possessions), there exist places where the height of the summer means heat and humidity and utter stillness with no breezes even the best designed buildings can take advantage of, and some people have genuine health issues that have to be accommodated. Perhaps, if it hasn't gotten bad enough where you live for you to understand why it is necessary sometimes, you are speaking from a position of cool, breezy privilege.

PS: That's great that the Moors figured out so much cool stuff but seriously, regardless of housing design, give me a Mediterranean summer over an American Midwestern summer, let alone a tropical Australian summer, any day. You know nothing, John Snow.
posted by olinerd at 4:21 PM on May 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


In really wet climates, ventilation sometimes just isn't enough: you can't dilute water vapour in the inside air if the outside air has more. AC can help, but sometimes a dehumidifier is needed.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:46 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


My sister spent time not long ago in Georgetown, Guyana. She reported that air conditioning is used mostly in tourist hotels and buildings there; the local folks deal with the equatorial heat by laying low mid-day and shopping and transacting business during the evening hours. Even so, was it not still unbearably hot without the familiar comforts of AC, I wondered?

"Not unbearably. The trade winds are a real thing, and feel wonderful. Plus, everyone drinks a lot of rum." She smiled. "Guyana has wonderful rum."
posted by kinnakeet at 6:57 PM on May 22, 2016


Keeping indoor spaces cooled down to 65 degrees is not necessary to prevent death. Thankfully it seems to be much less prevalent in NYC at least, but it's still fairly common. This is what Europeans are reacting to, they are not calling for us to die.

I'm not really interested in making this an Americans vs. Europeans thing, because -- among other things -- I don't know and am not inclined to investigate the nationality of the folks in this thread sneering about "people who collectively waste 25% of the world's energy", but it seems to me that said sneering is not in any way compatible with nuance. I have plenty of experience with people -- Americans, not that it matters -- who have that kind of attitude, and by and large they don't give a fuck if you're running your AC for two weeks a year at 75F or whatever. They just care that you have one and they don't, and they care that it makes them superior to you.

Me, I don't blame people for trying to make their shitty lives under capitalism slightly less shitty. I blame the systems that incentivise developers to snatch up cheap land that should have been left to nature and then build shitty, lowest-bidder homes with no durability and piss-poor energy efficiency on said land, and I blame the governments that let it happen back in the 50s and who continue to let it happen.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:24 PM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


About this dying argument; there are people with severe allergies and life-threatening astma in Europe, too. My brother is an example, and has survived till now without aircondition.

And there are people who die during summer heats in Europe as well, not least in Central and Eastern Europe where the climate is continental. Often they are elderly poor and/or homeless who don't have acces to proper care, including shade and hydration.

I'm not into sneering at anyone - I can perfectly understand how those who have grown up with aircondition cannot imagine how it works in other parts of the world. But as always in these discussions, I wonder at the unwillingness of some Americans to listen to other points of view. Specially since we all need to figure out new ways of living with much less waste of fossil fuels.

Airconditioning powered by solar cells might be a solution for many, I don't know. Figuratively screaming that you will die if anything changes seems unproductive.
posted by mumimor at 11:42 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Greetings from a sub-tropical capital city of Australia where the temperature really hasn't dipped under 82 degrees for around 6 months, and where none of my classrooms that I teach in are ventilated adequately, let alone air conditioned. This is common for state schools, rather than the exception. Air conditioning is seen as an expensive luxury.

I react badly to humidity, and have basically spent the first two terms of the year sweating profusely in front of the students. Hard to get kids to learn when even you feel like you're going to get heatstroke.
posted by chronic sublime at 2:33 AM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Big Chill - Rationalizations
posted by fairmettle at 3:06 AM on May 23, 2016


I'm not into sneering at anyone - I can perfectly understand how those who have grown up with aircondition cannot imagine how it works in other parts of the world. But as always in these discussions, I wonder at the unwillingness of some Americans to listen to other points of view.

I live in the tropics, and so far I've met one person who can afford air conditioning and chooses not to use it in summer.

You can have principled positions, they just won't survive real humidity.
posted by zymil at 3:24 AM on May 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


Is there space for seven billion in climates with mild winters and cool summers? Because otherwise, everyone who can afford to will be using cheap energy half the year to be comfortable, be it heating or cooling.

But if anyone wants to build a Pacific Northwest Megacity, memail me.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:27 AM on May 23, 2016


Taking into account that the original article is written and hosted by a company that sells AC, this seems like a more nuanced take on the same issue, even if it's the Guardian.
posted by signal at 5:53 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not for nothing, but I've lived my whole life in either Mississippi, Alabama, or Houston, and I've absolutely never encountered anyone who kept their thermostat at 64 in the summer. In a place like Houston, your system would run 24x7 to try and maintain it, which isn't how they're engineered to work.

We're 76 or 78 in the summer, and 68 or so in the winter.

Oh, and this is on point; thanks zymil.
You can have principled positions, they just won't survive real humidity.
posted by uberchet at 6:05 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


//We're 76 or 78 in the summer, and 68 or so in the winter.//

Yep. I've lived in VA and GA for the last 27 years. AC is set to 78 in summer, heat to 68 in winter, with heat turning off completely at night and coming back on 30 minutes before anybody gets up.
posted by COD at 6:11 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not into sneering at anyone - I can perfectly understand how those who have grown up with aircondition cannot imagine how it works in other parts of the world. But as always in these discussions, I wonder at the unwillingness of some Americans to listen to other points of view.

It's because the other parts of the world that people who berate Americans for a/c come from overwhelmingly seem to have much milder summers than the major population centers of the US do.

I mean, go spend a summer in DC or, God help you, Dallas or Houston and leave the a/c off. You'll stop wondering. If you haven't spent a summer in DC or Dallas or Chicago, then you should probably accept that you're unfamiliar with it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:36 AM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


I grew up in a colonial house designed for non-air conditioning - big verandahs, shade and breeze catching corridors, high ceilings, fans etc. We had one room fitted with air-conditioners for overseas guests who couldn't cope with the tropical weather and very very rarely, we were allowed to stay in that room and use the air-conditioning. It's only been four years since I moved into a flat with actual air-conditioning installed and we chose not to have it in the living room, just the bedrooms to keep costs down and because we could cross-ventilate with fans well enough and were used to going without.

That said, fuck off and MELT for denying someone living in the tropics or a hot country air-conditioning because it's a waste. You know what's a waste? Being unable to fucking move or think because it is so hot you are stuck to your chair by sweat and can't breathe or think.

Fans are great and cheaper to run for some circumstances, but air conditioning means your brain is not slowly overheating and you can concentrate and be productive, not sweat. And this whole bullshit about how we should all have long siestas and work during dusk and dawn like the blah blah mediterranean-arabians - yes, sure, when we are working from our hammocks on our private yachts. The rest of us in offices and factories are saying YES to industrial airconditioning that means we don't fall over dead and dehydrated from exhaustion and that makes it possible for us to work 9-10 hours and go home, rather than have to get up at 4am and hide from the noon-day sun because air conditioning is 'indulgent'.

AIR CONDITIONING FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER. (waves tiny Singaporean flag in breeze of aircon vent)
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:15 AM on May 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think if the conversation were framed more along the lines of reducing AC use rather than making AC a moral wrong it might be more productive.

I spent my first four decades of life in a place with basically no humidity: Amarillo TX. During the summers temperatures routinely hit the upper 30's and often broke into the lower 40's. Most people there used evaporative coolers because they were both energy efficient and having some humidity in your house helped your sinuses.

Being outside wasn't awful. I never even bothered wearing shorts in my adult life there, jeans and a t-shirt were comfortable on even the hottest summer days because sweat evaporated and there was always a nice breeze [1].

Then I moved to San Antonio. Apparently, thanks Seymour Zamboni, I don't know jack shit about how humidity is actually measured. But whatever the actual percentage is, the air around here in the summer feels like thin soup, not air. Even when the temperatures are in a range I'd have previously thought of as reasonable, or even a bit on the cool side, it is godawful muggy and horribly evilly hot feeling even if the actual temperature is only in the upper 20's.

Whatever the actual percentage is, the humidity here is like an oppressive force actively trying to kill you. And even then it isn't so bad as it is in Houston or Florida.

So I use AC.

I don't keep my house at refrigerator temperatures. I agree that when you walk into a store or office and feel like you have to put on a sweater that's foolhardy and wasteful.

But AC is pretty much an actual necessity here.

Arguing that people should keep the AC turned to a higher temp I can fully get behind. There's no need to have the AC set to 20 or below (or 68 or below if you must use Imperial). Set it up around 25 or so, and a dehumidifier would be an excellent way to help the AC feel cooler than it really is.

So yes, let's argue for saving the Earth by using **LESS** AC. But arguing that AC must be abolished is counterproductive and provincial, it shows a total lack of awareness of the actual conditions in parts of the world that lack the generally pleasant climate of Europe and a few other very lucky areas.

[1] In Amarillo a "nice breeze" is apparently what people in most of the world would call "gale force winds". What we called "a windy day" is what most people would call "holy shit I believe my house is going to literally blow over!"
posted by sotonohito at 7:26 AM on May 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Going outside in San Antonio summers is like being hit with a hot, wet, hammer. It's like stepping into a steam room. I switched to shorts for the very first time in my adult life and even then it's awful and horrifying how muggy and generally oppressively evil the summer weather is.

Don't get me wrong, I love my new city. It's a great place and I'm glad I moved here. But the summer weather feels like it is trying to make me move to a place with a more reasonable climate.
posted by sotonohito at 7:30 AM on May 23, 2016


In Georgia (the one that is an American state), people are so used to their AC that their house windows never open. As in, never ever, including pleasant dry 70F days. Same for car windows. You can make a game out of it. Watch a busy Atlanta intersection on a beautiful day like yesterday and try to calculate the percentage of people who actually have their car windows open. It's in the single digits.

I wonder what would happen to the world if a vast majority of world's population -- I'm talking India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, tropical and equatorial parts of Africa and South America, etc., got access to universal AC, and started using it with the same entitlement witnessed in this thread.
posted by shala at 7:47 AM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm not into sneering at anyone - I can perfectly understand how those who have grown up with aircondition cannot imagine how it works in other parts of the world.

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is a proper sneer. "I'm not into calling anyone idiots - I can perfectly understand how those with simple minds can't grasp basic concepts. "

But as always in these discussions, I wonder at the unwillingness of some Americans to listen to other points of view.

Physician, heal thyself. You'll notice that it's not just Americans advocating for AC, but people from tropical areas like Singapore. It's almost as if Europeans and people from mild climates are unwilling to listen to other points of view, and presume their own moral superiority.

But perhaps Lee Kuan Yew is secretly an Anerican who has not been properly willing to open his mind?
posted by Sangermaine at 7:49 AM on May 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


I live in Minnesota where we get to have BOTH extremes. In the winter it often gets below zero and I find myself explaining the concept of "too cold to snow" to my co-workers in other climates. Then, in the summer we get long stretches of daily highs in the 90's and usually a few days over 100F. Two years ago during a nation wide heat wave, the hottest location in the US was right here in Minnesota.

And we have lakes! Unless you're in Duluth where lake superior acts to bunt the extremes, those lakes just evaporate adding humidity and spawn mosquitoes. Do you know what 80F feels like when there's FOG? It's not nice.

Then, because of our location in relation to the jet stream, it shifts up and down right over us meaning that sometimes we're getting frigid arctic air down from Canada and sometimes it shifts up and we get warm air from the American southwest. Swings of 30F in 24 hours are not uncommon and we sometimes see swings of 50F. It makes for a rough spring. It starts later than most other places and it often gets really nice for a day, everyone gets their shorts out and enjoys the weather and then you're back to shoveling snow the next day, after shoveling snow and looking at grey skies for the last six months.

Sometimes I think the brutal winters are just there so the hot and humid summers don't seem so bad. Anyone trying to tell me to just stop using my A/C don't know what they're talking about.
posted by VTX at 7:53 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I grew up in North Texas and during high school I lived in a house without central heat or air conditioning. We did finally install window AC in the bedrooms after a while. I also drove really crappy cars that had a tendency to overheat, so I never used the AC in my car until I bought a brand new one a few years ago. And I still prefer to not use the AC because I don't want to get used to and then grow dependent on it.

Just for reference, its 100+ from the middle of July to the beginning of September and won't drop below 90 regularly until October. The low temps dont fall below 80 in August. I now live in Georgia and the people here say "its the humidity not the heat" but I have yet to see it (they also call Dallas a dry heat but the average relative humidity in august is 65% vs Atlanta is 74%, I'm not seeing the huge difference there.)

If you grew up in the area, and were used to not using the AC, it's not unbearable. As long as you're mostly outside or not doing much but laying around inside. At least when you're outside there's a breeze, there's shade, there's water to play in. I would absolutely not want to be stuck in a building with only fans doing actual work (like a factory or office). That would suck sooooo much.

And these businesses with the A/C. People experience indoor temps in relation to outdoor temps. These stores are probably keeping the AC on 70 when they could put it closer to 80. When its 90 outside, that still feels really good. That's the real problem, so many businesses, so low with the AC, and running all the time.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:13 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is a proper sneer. "I'm not into calling anyone idiots - I can perfectly understand how those with simple minds can't grasp basic concepts. "

True - I'm sorry, shouldn't write hastily on my way to work.

I think if the conversation were framed more along the lines of reducing AC use rather than making AC a moral wrong it might be more productive.

This is what I can support - you can't change whole cities overnight and if we were to do without A/C, we would need to change whole cities.

The rest of us in offices and factories are saying YES to industrial airconditioning that means we don't fall over dead and dehydrated from exhaustion and that makes it possible for us to work 9-10 hours and go home

I know, and I agree; but the basic issue here is that those office buildings and factories (and homes) are built as if they were placed in some magical and not-existing temperate place where energy costs are not an issue. Obviously one cannot change all of Singapore - or Dubai - or Sao Paolo overnight, and you who use A/C in those cities and many, many others which are planned for A/C are not at all morally or in any other way to blame. The architects and planners and politicians who created those cities and houses aren't even to blame, because they had no idea of the consequences of what they were doing, and the criticism of their ideas was not widely known.

When Mies van der Rohe built the famous Lake Shore Drive apartments, a European critic asked him how they could ever be sustainable. His reply was that Americans didn't care about energy costs. Europe is big and has all sorts of climates, and we neither lack Siberian cold nor tropical heat and crazy swings between them, but energy has never been as cheap in Europe as in the US. The difference is not about given climate conditions but that the Western European response to the energy crisis of the 1970's was to re-examine the national building codes with a strong focus on energy use, within a culture that was already aware of energy costs. Most new commercial buildings have A/C, but the codes do a lot to minimize energy waste - also in buildings made for A/C.

Specially Germany has very interesting and progressive building codes in some länder, codes which drive innovation and thus help develop industry.

I wonder what would happen to the world if a vast majority of world's population -- I'm talking India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, tropical and equatorial parts of Africa and South America, etc., got access to universal AC, and started using it with the same entitlement witnessed in this thread.

This.

But someone is working on it.
posted by mumimor at 9:51 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I accept the need for air conditioning in, say, Phoenix. What baffles me is people who demand it in Seattle, where I live. Frequently these are folks who have not even attempted more reasonable solutions like ceiling fans.


I invite you to come hang out in my apartment, with high ceilings/large windows/ceiling fans in every room that will still hit 90-95f when it's 85 outside which we hit like all summer last year. Any more than that and it can hit 100. Last summer was VERY humid too. Like NYC humid.

You can't even sleep under a plain sheet with the ceiling fan on full blast in that weather. I know, because I had no AC. I probably won't this summer either but holy crap would I not think anything Ill of someone in my building who got one. And I'm on the 2nd floor, it's hotter on the 3rd by a LOT.

By the way, the place has modern Windows and I believe the insulation(and roof) was done within the past decade. It's just how the place is, because it's from like 1904.

Building design has come a long long way, but there's an awful lot of old structures in Seattle and other warming up but similar climates that don't handle the intense sun and moderate-hot heat well at all. An old crappy rental house I lived in a few years back could hit 85 with ac and essentially infinity without it(like, car parked in the sun top end of the thermometer).

"Move to a better building then" or "well get the landlord to rehab it" isn't really an option when you're in the place you're at because it has below market rate rent and that's what you can afford. This one definitely hits lower income people in older buildings a lot more accutely everywhere. Which is part of the reason "fuck ac" always reeked of classist sneering to me.
posted by emptythought at 10:07 AM on May 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


So, the northern border of the contiguous United States is 48 degrees north.

The European cities closest to this latitude are Munich (48deg 8') and Vienna (48deg 13'). All of Northern Europe is north of the entire "Lower 48".

The city where I live, Memphis, is a comparable latitude to Kirkuk or Kabul. Atlanta is close to Damascus or Baghdad. Houston is south of Cairo.

Boston is sound of Cannes.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:28 AM on May 23, 2016 [11 favorites]


I wonder what would happen to the world if a vast majority of world's population -- I'm talking India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, tropical and equatorial parts of Africa and South America, etc., got access to universal AC, and started using it with the same entitlement witnessed in this thread.

They'd use lots of electricity. If this comes from renewables or nuke plants, it's not a big deal.

The difference is not about given climate conditions but that the Western European response to the energy crisis

They can both be different. Pretending that summer in London or Berlin or Copenhagen or Paris is the same as summer in DC or Dallas is just silly. Yes, I know Europe includes Madrid, Rome, and Athens too, but it seems to be disproportionately people from northern Europe kvetching about a/c use.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wonder what would happen to the world if a vast majority of world's population -- I'm talking India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, tropical and equatorial parts of Africa and South America, etc., got access to universal AC, and started using it with the same entitlement witnessed in this thread.

You could say that about a lot of things though. Do you own a car? You own some sort of computing device in order to be commenting here. Why don't you give those up? Most of the world doesn't have cars, why are you entitled to one? Why do you have a computing device? If everyone had one, energy consumption would go way up plus natural resources (rare minerals) would be depleted more quickly.
posted by AFABulous at 11:06 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm not implying that poor people should not have nice things. Just pointing out hypocrisy.
posted by AFABulous at 11:07 AM on May 23, 2016


What on earth makes people think that all Americans grew up with AC? I'm not yet 40, and Oh the Memories. We technically got a window air conditioner when I was something like nine years old. It was for company and emergencies, in roughly that order. It was almost never on and even then not for more than a couple hours to take the edge off the heat exhaustion. Occasionally I would come home from elementary school (which also did not have air conditioning), get out a chair, and turn on the AC fir 15 minutes or so while I stood in front of the cool air. That was the only time I could get away with it without being yelled at. That situation persisted into high school. I would have fights with my younger brother because I'd try to use our electric fans to get an air current going through the house, but he wanted the fan turned directly on him.

This was in our town just outside DC and IT WAS MISERABLE. I had "prickly heat" every summer as a kid. If you're not familiar, that involves an itchy rash with welts caused by chronic sweaty dampness and humidity. It was a special joy to have behind my ears, where it would crust over and the skin would fall out. I lived in a cloud of baby powder.

The only relief for the heat, if you were lucky to be home, was multiple cold showers a day. People in the US still live like this if they can't afford AC. It sucks.

The main criticism seems to be, "well you don't need to have the temperature set so low!" But I know very few people who actually keep the AC on a ridiculously low temperature all the time. Most people don't... because its expensive. They mostly keep it at what temperature keeps them from sweating. They don't set the temperature in shopping malls or in airports or in offices, where temperature is generally set to keep the most people from sweating... which is also too low for at least half the population.

In the college I went to, it was all sorts of wrong but the organic chemistry labs didn't have AC for some reason. Not so great for the reagents. Even worse for the students sweating while trying to measure chemicals and assemble glass equipment and write notes. (Remember all the years in class trying to take notes while having to repeatedly unstick your arm from the desk and the paper and wipe your hand so you could grip your pencil? I try not to.) I had to step out multiple times per session to wipe the steam from my goggles.

So while I don't really LIKE air conditioning, per se, I understand why people use it. But you know who really did like it? My grandmother, who was born and lived most of her life in a part of Asia known for steamy jungles. She had the biggest assortment of scented talcum powder you'd have ever seen.
posted by zennie at 11:09 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know Europe includes Madrid, Rome, and Athens too, but it seems to be disproportionately people from northern Europe kvetching about a/c use.

Strawman, anyone?

I have many friends in Italy and Spain and some in Greece, and no one I know, or have met through friends, have aircondition at home. Maybe some super-rich jetsetters might have it, but I don't know those people. I've lived in several parts of Italy and in central Germany where summers are very hot. I've also lived in NYC, and traveled across the US. I live in a wonderfully temperate part of the world now, by choice, but the idea that anyone living in Northern Europe would be ignorant of other climate zones is ridiculous bordering on the offensive. Not nearly as offensive as suggesting that most of the people in Africa are lazy and inefficient, but still offensive.

Most of Europe is a lot warmer than countries on the same latitude because of the Gulf stream, but Europe also includes countries with continental climate and with permafrost. Generally, private homes don't have A/C - but office buildings and modern factories generally do. Companies with buildings that are dependent on A/C are interested in lowering energy costs. Because energy costs are very high in Europe, regardless of the source. So they are interested in sustainable solutions.

On the Green, and on FB, I see endless "kvetching" from Americans about the lack of aircondition in Europe, which makes me think that it isn't really the European climate that is magically different from that of America, but a different approach to climate.

Whatever the reason, in my opinion, individuals are not to blame, and this should not be another US/EU posturing thing. Postwar planning and building design is to blame, everywhere across the globe. Europeans (and lower-class people everywhere except the US) are less dependent on aircondition because we are poorer and pay more for energy, not because we are smarter or better.
posted by mumimor at 11:14 AM on May 23, 2016


The city where I live, Memphis, is a comparable latitude to Kirkuk or Kabul. Atlanta is close to Damascus or Baghdad. Houston is south of Cairo.

Boston is sound of Cannes.


And San Francisco is south of Ashgabat, and San Diego is south of Phoenix. Not sure what the point is.
posted by shala at 12:03 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


the idea that anyone living in Northern Europe would be ignorant of other climate zones is ridiculous bordering on the offensive.
LOL. Visiting a climate, or reading about it, isn't the same as living in it.

Speaking of schools uptopic:

I'm 46. My public schools were not air conditioned until my senior year. In South Mississippi.

Books warped. Notebooks became unusable. Ink ran. Everyone was miserable all the time in the hot months, which in a place like that means "until mid-October, and then again starting in April." And this was in buildings built to lack it, with banks of windows on two sides. No amount of breeze fixes deep south humidity; it's just miserable. Try taking notes while mopping your forehead lest you sweat onto the paper. It was fucking miserable.

AC came in, I suspect, because computers in the late 1980s didn't handle that kind of climate very well (and really still won't). They'd already had to retrofit AC into the one room with a minicomputer in it, plus the office (which had another system). In my senior year, they subdivided the old gym into classrooms, which got AC because otherwise they'd be uninhabitable. The rest of the classrooms got it the following year, but the common spaces at that school are still all outside.
posted by uberchet at 12:05 PM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Visiting a climate, or reading about it, isn't the same as living in it

Absolutely. Which is why I mentioned that I have lived in Italy, Germany and the US. From what you write, I am certain you haven't lived in Italy or Germany, but I can assure you that you can experience extreme heat/moisture and extreme cold in both countries. And I have. When I lived in New York, we both had a winter where the elderly and children were advised to stay in, and a 100 degree heatwave. I was lucky that way.

Your comment could be read equally as arrogance or ignorance - it's your choice..
posted by mumimor at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2016


Most of the world doesn't have cars, why are you entitled to one?

If you can kindly point out where I stated that I was entitled to a car, I would appreciate it.
posted by shala at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


A couple of thoughts, first off, here's some links to data. After looking into how humidity is actually measured I'm pretty sure that the dew point graph at the bottom of each page is probably the most relevant:

Miami Florida
New Delhi India
Rome Italy
San Antonio TX
Amarillo TX
Tokyo Japan
Paris France
Atlanta, GA
New Orleans, LA

Play with some cities of your choice. What I note is that things seem a lot more comfortable even in Southern Europe than they are in the Southern USA.

More to the point, I think it's pretty self evident that people generally will not chose discomfort if they can chose comfort. And even in Japan where there's a culture of living with the seasons and avoiding unnecessary AC, when I lived in Tokyo people there used AC in the summer.

Not to the point of turning their houses into refrigerators, but they used them and kept things comfortable because, well, that's what people do if they have the luxury of choice.

Yes, people can live without AC, and buildings certainly can be designed to better deal with high or low temperatures. Switching to green (plant) or white (paint) roofs should be mandatory (and would create a lot of jobs).

But also, in place where the weather is simply not very comfortable, people will be using AC if they can.

I think that as global warming progresses we'll be seeing more of Europe using AC as well. Their summers are going to get hotter, moister, and generally less pleasant as climate change progresses.

The problem always comes back to energy and where it comes from, not I would argue a moral claim that not using AC is superior to using AC.
posted by sotonohito at 12:50 PM on May 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Not to the point of turning their houses into refrigerators, but they used them and kept things comfortable because, well, that's what people do if they have the luxury of choice.

Yes, people can live without AC, and buildings certainly can be designed to better deal with high or low temperatures. Switching to green (plant) or white (paint) roofs should be mandatory (and would create a lot of jobs).

But also, in place where the weather is simply not very comfortable, people will be using AC if they can.

I think that as global warming progresses we'll be seeing more of Europe using AC as well. Their summers are going to get hotter, moister, and generally less pleasant as climate change progresses.


I am not seeing more A/C in Europe in any future - I'm seeing more green solutions, like enhanced natural ventilation. There is a huge emphasis on this, from the EU level and down to individuals. Look at this article, in the Daily Mail!

What I, and many others are worrying about is how the American approach is being adapted by the 10% in many developing countries, and also the trickle down of that practice. The reason I even enter this debate is that American values are responsible for many decisions across the globe, wether they are smart or not.
But there are alternatives - Studio Mumbai works from a base of vernacular knowledge and are probably the hottest stars in global architecture today.

I see young designers and architects working hard to convince their clients that "American" houses with huge glass surfaces and A/C are not very cool. I'm optimistic.
posted by mumimor at 1:14 PM on May 23, 2016


I think the idea that people in India or Thailand should simply settle for being miserable in the hotter months is both racist and rooted in complete ignorance of local conditions from people who live in a comfortable climate.

Yes, by all means build the most energy efficient house possible. But also include AC because in the hot parts of the world anything else is simply inhumane. That's not Americanism, that's simple humanism. I think the people in Singapore and Mumbai and Bangkok also deserve comfortable lives.

Natural ventilation is wonderful, in a climate that can do it and still produce comfortable conditions. In Paris or even Rome it'll be great, in Delhi telling people to get by with that is obscene.
posted by sotonohito at 1:25 PM on May 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


I also note that the rich architect you link to has nothing that looks even remotely affordable for the average person. We can't all live in perfect mansions surrounded by giant ponds. People have to live in the big apartments in the cities too.
posted by sotonohito at 1:27 PM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


The reason people have to live in apartment towers in the cities is that someone planned the cities that way. There were alternatives and they were known. Look for A Pattern Language - and there are many, many earlier and later proposals which were and are economically and ecologically sound - some of them also built. Another huge star of current architecture is Alejandro Aravena, who is curating this year's Venice Biennale. People are looking to other solutions.

The US went for a car-based urban model, not least because of the intense efforts of the automobile lobby, and the A/C lobby latched on to that. That model meant suburbs and exurbs, and it meant constructions that disregarded climate. It's not your fault. But it is not sound.
posted by mumimor at 1:40 PM on May 23, 2016


Your comment could be read equally as arrogance or ignorance - it's your choice..
You're becoming hilariously condescending in this thread. You tried to walk back your sneering comment earlier as "writing hastily on my way to work," but the tone is creeping back in. I'm starting to think that's your desired mode.

As sotonohito notes with actual data, the southern half of the US is typically much less pleasant for much more of the year than the "continental climate" areas of Europe. It's going to stay air conditioned. And more AC will get used in more unpleasant places.
It's not your fault. But it is not sound.
There's that wagging finger again. Your thesis for most of this thread appears to be that the US should abandon trillions of dollars in infrastructure and real estate in inconveniently subtropical climates in favor of drastically less comfortable "naturally ventilated" structures ("Some buildings can be adapted to the new reality, others have to be replaced. This is how history has always been.") At the same time, we should eschew auto-central sprawl, and presumably live closer together.

Even if the idea weren't self-evidently ridiculous at an economic level, I'm not sure how you'd go about accomplishing higher density/lower car use AND the abandonment of the kind of high-density development for offices and apartments that climate control allows.

This makes me think you're just here to sneer at Americans about AC.
posted by uberchet at 2:40 PM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Your thesis for most of this thread appears to be that the US should abandon trillions of dollars in infrastructure and real estate in inconveniently subtropical climates in favor of drastically less comfortable "naturally ventilated" structures ("Some buildings can be adapted to the new reality, others have to be replaced. This is how history has always been.") At the same time, we should eschew auto-central sprawl, and presumably live closer together.

And yes, this is exactly what I believe. There may be other solutions. But I believe radical change is necessary in order to deal with the dramatic climate changes we will have to deal with in the immediate future.
posted by mumimor at 3:14 PM on May 23, 2016


Yeah, we'll get right on that. I mean after, and if ever, we fix all the shit we already have that's completely falling apart, and have decent schools and health care. I'm sure we'll have some money left over.
posted by bongo_x at 3:34 PM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


In Lahore where I grew up, the summer temperature routinely goes up to 47-48 degrees. We get dry heat from May to July and, during the monsoon in August to September, damp heat. Electricity is unreliable. Air conditioning can be a blessing, yes, but older construction and lifestyles are designed not to need it. Walls are thick, there are verandas, 'swamp' coolers during the dry heat, high ceilings with small windows to circulate the air, fans and cane blinds which protect walls and windows from the luh (extremely hot desert wind). Even older construction may have wind towers or water, and be surrounded by shade trees. A traditional lifestyle will have a break in the afternoon: until my early teens, a nap from 2-4 was mandatory.

Now I live in Kuala Lumpur, next door to Singapore. I don't actually use the AC more than a couple of hours a week, because I dislike the stale feel of conditioned air and with fans and open windows and appropriate clothing, I'm used to the temperature and mugginess. So I will be one voice from a tropical climate pointing out that no, air conditioning need not be a necessity, barring health or other reasons.

Unfortunately, modern construction and modern lifestyles, including in Lahore, are designed around an artificially cooled environment. Air conditioning is a comfort but, for most of us, it is only a necessity because we have made it so.

Lee Kwan Yew is probably right that the lifestyle imposed on the tropics by work patterns and dress codes developed in northern Europe and America reduces productivity without the creation of artificial mini-climates.

However, to imply, as Lee did (and was quoted in this thread without challenge) that people in tropical climates are slothful savages without air conditioning is an insulting and ignorant nonsense.
posted by tavegyl at 8:22 PM on May 23, 2016


Even if the idea weren't self-evidently ridiculous at an economic level, I'm not sure how you'd go about accomplishing higher density/lower car use AND the abandonment of the kind of high-density development for offices and apartments that climate control allows.

One idea..

I've also heard of a financed plan to completely refurbish an existing neighborhood in a major city - there are no links for that project, but my google search "green transformation of existing city" gave millions of links. I figure that means someone is on the case.

But for goodness sake, lets all keep the status quo till we burn up and blame those evil Europeans for USA-bashing while doing so
posted by mumimor at 3:07 AM on May 24, 2016


Even if it were possible to build a passively cooled house in a climate like Houston's, I'm pretty sure tearing down and rebuilding every house in every city in the American south isn't the "green" solution.
posted by bradf at 6:23 AM on May 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


Seems like it would be easier to just stop building fossil fuel powerplants and build renewable ones and/or, if you're willing to hold your nose, nuke plants instead. Then the a/c doesn't really matter.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:37 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


We seem to be talking past one another a bit.

mumimor, I don't disagree at all that better, greener, construction methods are an extremely good idea. Glass skyscrapers are, even with proper double pane windows, still a godawful greenhouse in the summer and they dump heat at a preposterously high rate in the winter. No argument there at all. Windows are nice, I support the inclusion of windows, but all glass is just plain wasteful.

Where I run into problems is the assumption that it is either good, or necessary, for everyone to take a drastic, significant, step backward in comfort.

While it is true that AC consumes a lot of power, it is also true that even if all AC vanished tomorrow we'd still be emitting CO2 at a completely unsustainable level. Climate change is not happening because people use AC, you could argue that it may be happening a bit faster due to AC use, but it'd be happening regardless.

All that will happen if AC vanishes is that people who used it will be a lot less comfortable as climate change continues.

The personal virtue model of ecological improvement is simply not reality based.

I also don't think we'll all be leaving the cities to live in the countryside. It just isn't going to happen. So models of livable dwellings based on giant country estates are nice things for rich people to feel personally virtuous about, but won't do anything to actually address the core problem.

Worse, spreading out as the use of various (inefficient and still horribly uncomfortable in many climates) natural cooling methods will entail more pollution due to people having longer commutes whether by train or car.

Delhi has a population density of 25,535 people per square km not because the people there were brainwashed into thinking that big cities are good by colonialism, but because it's really damn convenient (especially in a poorer nation without so many personal cars or reliable public transit) to live that close to your work, your school, your shopping, etc. Trying to spread out that population would be an ecological disaster, both in terms of the massive destruction of wild areas that would be necessary to accommodate the population as it spread, but also by the giant surge in pollution from longer commutes.

Plus the tremendous ecological cost of tearing down most of the extant buildings and constructing new ones.

The idea of everyone just deciding to accept a smothering miserable life of no AC and spread out so they can employ the horribly uncomfortable methods you prefer is not only simply not going to happen, but I think it'd be many times worse in terms of environmental harm.

As ROU_Xenophobe points out, the real problem here is not AC per se, but the use of fossil fuels at all. Eliminating fossil fuels, as we must if we are to make any progress on climate change regardless of whether or not AC continues to be used, is the critical part.

If we had large quantities of CO2 free electricity to use then everyone in Delhi or wherever could run their AC at 20 degrees and the only problem would be the annoyance of having to take off and put on sweaters all the time.

In the short term, reducing AC abuse, retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient, and mandating more energy efficiency in new construction is simply a good idea. But none of that will even put a dent in climate change.
posted by sotonohito at 8:40 AM on May 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


As someone who lives in an AC-less unit in a building in which most/all of the other units have central AC, I do wish my neighbors would try harder to minimize their use of it. I have to have the windows open when it's warm, so I'm the one who gets to experience the immediate negative externalities of their AC. Climate change aside, loud compressors and additional heat generated right next to my home kinda suck.
posted by asperity at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


The underlying claim that air-conditioning is a major component of wasteful energy usage is itself wrong. That it's assumed and unquestioned reveals that the critics are motivated by an intuitive, unthinking dislike for which they then subsequently find rationales.

Here's one governmental source for US statistics of domestic energy consumption -- it's a bit outdated, but has the virtue of displaying comparative 1993 and 2009 data in pie chart form.

As you can see, even in 2009, air conditioning accounted for only 6.2% of home energy use, as compared to a whopping 41.5% for heating and even 17.7% for water heating. Water heating in homes consumes almost three times as much energy as air-conditioning. The remaining 34.6% is appliances, lighting, and electronics. If you want to target energy consumption in homes, you should first target space heating, then water heating, then wasteful electronics on standby (which, now in 2016, is probably collectively beginning to approach the energy consumption of all domestic air-conditioning).

These statistics are for the US, about which the claim in this discussion has been that it is the worst offender in air-conditioning use. So this is the worst case -- where air conditioning turns out to be a minor factor in domestic energy consumption.

Should that consumption be reduced with many of the building techniques described above? Definitely, whenever possible. And that there is more severe waste doesn't mean that this waste is trivial. Nevertheless, it's revealing when people disproportionately focus on a particular behavior and discuss it in value-laden and shaming terms but repeatedly claim to be making a purely utilitarian argument. They're not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:56 AM on May 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


As you can see, even in 2009, air conditioning accounted for only 6.2% of home energy use, as compared to a whopping 41.5% for heating and even 17.7% for water heating. Water heating in homes consumes almost three times as much energy as air-conditioning. The remaining 34.6% is appliances, lighting, and electronics. If you want to target energy consumption in homes, you should first target space heating, then water heating, then wasteful electronics on standby (which, now in 2016, is probably collectively beginning to approach the energy consumption of all domestic air-conditioning).

The main problem with aircondition is its use in commercial buildings, including office buildings and factories. I agree completely with your POV when it comes to private homes - and the suggestions I made above apply to most of those issues.

Also, in my first comment, I pointed out that a change to sustainable sources of energy might be a way to deal with the cost of A/C - most places A/C is really an important quality of life, solar power is cheap and unlimited.

What I reacted to was the sense of entitlement expressed by some commenters. Most of the world including almost all of sub-saharan Africa, most of India, most of Latin America and most of SE Asia manages fine without A/C, but from some commenters, it was suddenly a case of life or death, or insinuating that citizens in some countries are lazy and inefficient because they plan their day according to climate.

Change has to happen on the political level. But the private level is important too, and the good thing is, your personal investments in sustainability will improve your home economy. I negotiated a deal with my landlord about renovating my kitchen. He paid the most, but I paid for a new stove and a dish-washer both bought on sale. It's 4 years ago, and I've already gotten my investment back in the form of a much cheaper electricity bill.

I usually say to my kids that your personal climate effort is a little bit more worth than your vote. But your vote is really important. If you go out and campaign, either for a good candidate or for an NGO working for better solutions, you can keep your old fridge a couple years more. The best solution is to do it all, and more.

Where I live, massive consumer interests are forcing industrial agriculture to revise their strategies. It can be done.

It's not either politics or personal engagement.
posted by mumimor at 11:43 AM on May 24, 2016


One thing about offices, I was just telling my wife that I wish my company would start some kind desk-sharing program. I'm planning on working from a company location tomorrow and had to reserve a conference room for a whole day.

All this to say that a LOT of people at my company work from home most or nearly all of the time. I think that my company is on the leading edge of the transition but it keeps getting more normal for people with office jobs to just do them from home. 20 years out, I imagine that VR technology will make a lot of the things that are easier with in-person meetings just as easy to do from home too.
posted by VTX at 3:56 PM on May 24, 2016


I think the "life or death" thing is because for some vulnerable people heat can literally kill them. Large portions of the world do make do without A/C, but people die from heat there.

I didn't see suggestions that people in tropical climates are lazy, but I might have missed it, and that's a thing in some real world circles. It's obviously a dumb and racist claim.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:07 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Heat may not literally kill me but if I didn't have A/C I would lose my job because I would be too sick to work. If you grow up without A/C in an area that has architectural adaptations to ameliorate heat, of course you're going to be more tolerant of it. That's not an option for millions of people.

If heating is 41.5% of energy consumption, why isn't anyone calling for turning thermostats to 50 F and layering on clothing? 50 degrees will not kill the majority of people. If water heating is a bigger share of energy consumption than A/C, why is no one calling for cold showers, which are even less likely to kill people?
posted by AFABulous at 5:36 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think heated water and baths/showers is a really good example. It's not in any sense a necessity to bathe with hot water and it's the case that heating this water uses more energy than air conditioning. (Which is probably counter-intuitive to many people, but this is necessarily true because water has a large heat capacity and air has a relatively small heat capacity). So if you want to scold people about their wasteful excess in home energy consumption, the clear choice is to do so with regard to hot water, which people can completely do without.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:00 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pedantfiler: water at tap water temperatures (ca 50F) will actually kill you, but it'll take a few hours if you're healthy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:15 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Okay, if you're taking hours long baths I think you have a different problem.
posted by AFABulous at 6:29 PM on May 24, 2016


There actually are a lot of programs working to reduce A/C use and increase energy efficiency in the US! It's not like we're too stupid to know it's a problem. My state, for example, has significant grants available for local government buildings built new or retrofitted with geothermal (which is extremely efficient here with our local climate and well-suited to our soil/bedrock/water table situation) -- things like town halls, schools, etc. In my district's case, we got something like a $4 million award to retrofit and upgrade a school (that had had a fire, so the HVAC was being wholly overhauled regardless), on top of the $8 million we were able to put towards it. That's a HUGE amount! Schools are a particularly good target for geothermal because retrofitting with geothermal requires being able to sink the wells for it in a field next to the building -- and most schools have great big playgrounds and playing fields next to the building, allowing the retrofit to proceed without disrupting neighboring buildings or requiring land purchase or anything. They shut down a soccer field for a year to dig the whole thing up and sink the wells and then reopened it the next year, basically.

Anyway, the geothermal refit made this building the BEST climate-controlled building in our district (teachers brag to other teachers about how comfortable it is) and the grant enabled us to upgrade all the ugly fluorescent tube fixtures to modern sunlight LEDs and to put in some hella kickass windows (that are great for both climate control and for visual and physical comfort in the classroom), AND it's now the cheapest building in our district to run, by a lot.

So the reason this is a great policy is, for a relatively small investment in government buildings that are getting built or renovated anyway (schools undergo fairly major renovations every ten years, even if they don't have a big fire), the state has managed to spur quite a bit of interest in geothermal. Every other school and township building manager in the area came to tour ours while it was being built and after it was done, and they all want to see the cost numbers for running it. They can do their own math to see how long it takes to pay for it even without the grants. And lots of builders and building managers of privately-owned industrial warehouses and factories came to check it out too. The grants create a lot of interest in the technology and its cost savings, and they create test sites out in communities across the state (not just in the hippie environmentalist parts, but out where the factories are too!) where people can come and see, "what does this actually look like? how does it work? what does it cost to run? how does the building feel?" And it's created expertise in local contractors who are able to do these projects.

The schools in particular have also spurred homeowner interest and created a knowledge base in homeowners, as people whose kids go to geothermal schools learn about it that way -- although retrofitting homes for geothermal is considerably less cost-effective because of the capital costs (and the complications of sinking wells in small yards). But it's disseminating the knowledge of this as a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly form of heating and cooling that works really well and raising a lot of positive awareness. For a really very small government investment.

Anyway there are good programs out there that are already addressing reduction of use in A/C (and traditional heating methods, which are more energy intensive than A/C where I live), and nuturing these programs, finding the best ones for a variety of climate conditions, and networking them to other states should be a priority -- not scolding people for personal A/C use.

I believe these grants are not currently available as our state has no budget and is funding none of the things. But I assume they will come back in some form when we have a budget again. There are also grants for solar and green roofs on schools, converting schools to wind power, LED upgrades in schools, and similar. The state fronts the capital costs that may be too high for small districts, and gets long-term returns in lower energy costs that equate to lower tax bills. And spreads knowledge and awareness at the same time and turns schoolchildren into little energy-saving fascists who harass their parents like whoa.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:56 PM on May 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, that is a great example, and that type of project is what I think should be done across the globe.

I wish more clients - public and private - would look at the costs of running buildings, rather than just the cost of construction, because well-designed buildings are sometimes a little more expensive to build: but they can finance themselves within few years.
posted by mumimor at 9:01 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows, that's way cool.

Related to this thread and to air conditioning generally, I'll be at this year's ASHRAE in St. Louis in June and have proposed an IRL event about it for anyone who wants to geek with me!
posted by nicodine at 9:53 AM on May 25, 2016


Our house had been a foreclosure and our city had a joint program with the county to grant loan to people like us to fix up their previously foreclosed homes. Our initial plan was to use it to install a geothermal heat-pump. It ended up being too expensive because we'd have had to drill vertical wells for the system but it was still really attractive.

We're planning on moving soon and my plan for that house is to start with the best bang-for-the-buck to save on energy costs and work my up. My dream is to be able to have the windows open with the A/C on and still be carbon neutral. I probably won't ever actually do it since I'd be losing revenue on selling energy back to the grid but it would be nice to know that I could.
posted by VTX at 3:33 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


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