LOSING OUR COOL.
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer) by Stan Cox (New Press). You can also read a recent piece from Cox about tips for staying cool without air-conditioning.
Eddie Slautas turned down his neighbors' repeated offers to install a
window air conditioner in his Chicago apartment. Even when they said
they'd help him pay the difference in his utility bill, the 74-year-old
demurred. "Why should I make my electric bill higher?" he asked. "The
fan is good enough." Then came a fierce midsummer heat wave. On the
night of July 30, 1999, the neighbors found Slautas dead. The fan was
running, blowing hot air across his body. He was one of 103 Chicagoans
killed by the heat that week. In the last night of July 2006, a
Commonwealth Edison power cable running beneath the city of Chicago
failed, putting 3,400 customers in the dark. The next day, as
temperatures reached 100 degrees on the fifth day of a blistering heat
wave, 1,300 people had to be evacuated from high-rise residential
buildings in the area. Their apartments had become saunas, so they took
refuge in air-conditioned shelters. Resident Lutricia Somerville, who
had resorted to spending much of the night in her parked truck with the
air conditioner running, told a reporter, "It's just like Hurricane
Katrina." Those trapped in the heat must indeed have felt some of the
desperation that had hit New Orleans residents 11 months earlier. But
the outage was short-lived, and this time no one died or suffered
serious medical problems. (In San Fernando Valley, north of LA where I
LIVE, 118 is normal for a few weeks every year. No shabby, puny little
100. That's nice weather for us!) WE LOVE 100 degrees. THAT IS COOL!
POSTER'S NOTE: I hose the jungle around house, 40feet high,wetting
every leaf and making a refrigeration grid, then I turn on A.C in the room
where I am working only. 3 AC units, all used old and adopted.
WET LEAVES, PATHS, GROUND are a natural REFRIGERATION GRID
In June 2009, the U.S. Global Change Research Program -- a cooperative
effort by 13 federal agencies and the White House-- issued an alarming
188-page progress report on the pace of global warming. Among many dire
predictions was a forecast of deteriorating human health. Thomas Karl,
director of the National Climatic Data Center and the report's principal
author, said health was the issue sparking the most discussion among the
agencies and leading to the least certain conclusions; however, the
report confidently predicted increasing rates of heat-related illness
and mortality, and that higher temperatures, along with air pollution,
would cause the already accelerating rates of asthma and other
respiratory ailments to rise even faster.
Heat waves continue to plague Chicago, but the city is better prepared
than it once was. Its public health officials are determined to avoid a
replay of the bitter experience of July 1995, when more than 550 city
residents were killed by record-breaking heat. Most of those who died
had no air-conditioning, or if they did, they could not afford the
electricity to run it. The record numbers of air conditioners that were
switched on triggered more than 1,300 failures in the electricity supply
system, many of them caused by overheating of overloaded transformers. A
series of blackouts hit both rich and poor neighborhoods, but the bulk
of the casualties occurred in lower-income areas.
Longer, more intense heat waves hit Chicago in 1931 and 1936 but killed
far fewer people. That difference between the 1930s and 1990s has
puzzled experts; residential air-conditioning was virtually unheard of
in the 1930s, and the inner city's population was only slightly smaller
then than it is today. However, the average age of residents has
increased, there is a lot more concrete to hold the heat, and analysts
at the Midwestern Climate Center have suggested that people, especially
older people, have become more afraid of crime and more reluctant to
leave doors and windows open or to sleep outdoors (as many did in the
1930s). The analysts went on to suggest that "many people have also
forgotten how to 'live and function' with high temperatures."
Air-conditioning has been credited with huge improvements in the health
of the U.S. population. Ray Arsenault provided a partial list of
benefits that were realized in the first few decades of climate control:
"Air-conditioning has reduced fetal and infant mortality, prolonged the
lives of thousands of patients suffering from heart disease and
respiratory disorders, increased the reliability and sophistication of
micro-surgery, facilitated the institutionalization of public health,
and aided the production of modern drugs such as penicillin."
Air-conditioning can also be an important tool in dealing with the kinds
of weather crises that may become more frequent. Within the first few
hours of the extensive August 2003 power blackout in the Great Lakes and
Northeast, emergency rooms were overwhelmed with patients, a large
proportion of them suffering in one way or another from heat stress.
Most were rushed into air-conditioned shelters, where they recovered.
There is also evidence that air-conditioning provides routine protection
against illnesses caused by allergens, air pollution and mosquito-borne
pathogens and parasites.
Despite conflicting research results -- some statistics show that
air-conditioning has reduced heat-related death rates while others, as
we will see, find air-conditioning's effects swamped out by
socioeconomic forces -- the most direct and quantifiable claim made for
air-conditioning is that it can reduce the death toll during a heat wave
if broad access is ensured.
The nation's average temperatures dropped following the hot 1930s, but
heat waves made a comeback during the age of air-conditioning. From 1949
to 1995, the frequency of heat waves increased 20 percent, and the trend
has steepened since; matters are predicted to worsen. The Global Change
Research Program report, for one, is forecasting that "extreme heat
waves, which are currently rare, will become much more common in the
In a highly unusual incident that we can only hope is never repeated, an
extraordinarily large, intense mass of heat and humidity in August 2003
reportedly killed 35,000 to 52,000 people in Europe. Most of the victims
lived in places that normally see much milder summer weather and have
few air-conditioners or other means of defense against severe heat. Part
of the increase in superheated weather in cities across the globe can be
attributed to the heat-island effect, but these early days of global
warming may already be generating more heat emergencies.
Average over the past century, heat and humidity have killed far more
Americans than any other type of adverse weather. In 44 of the largest
U.S. cities, heat waves kill more than 1,800 people per year on average,
but the annual toll rises and falls steeply, depending on whether or not
there was a major-league heat wave in a given year.
A 2003 study of 28 U.S. cities suggests that the increase in heat-wave
deaths between the 1930s and 1990s in Chicago may have been an
exception; average numbers of heat-related deaths dropped by 59 percent
from the 1960s and 1970s to the 1980s and continued falling through the
1990s. The study concluded, "This systematic desensitization of the
metropolitan populace to high heat and humidity over time can be
attributed to a suite of technologic, infrastructural, and biophysical
adaptations, including increased availability of air-conditioning." A
nationwide study that used statistical techniques to eliminate the
effects of other socioeconomic factors found that access to central
air-conditioning reduced death rates by 42 percent during heat waves
that occurred between 1980 and 1985. Room air conditioners, in contrast,
had no effect, except in the smallest, one- to three-room dwellings,
where a window unit "may be seen as nearly equivalent to central
The health benefits of air-conditioning have not been shared evenly.
Historically, the most obvious disparities have been between races. In
four northern cities surveyed between 1986 and 1993, 41 percent of white
households had air-conditioning, compared with 16 percent of black
households. Heat waves in Minneapolis and Pittsburgh killed black
residents at six to seven times the rate at which they killed whites
during that period. Almost two-thirds of the difference in heat-related
deaths between the races was linked to differences in availability of
central air-conditioning. Central heating didn't have the same effect;
racial differences in death-rate peaks during winter cold spells were
People who enjoy easy access to central air-conditioning tend to assume
that surviving killer heat is no more than a matter of motivation. One
such person was Chicago's human services commissioner Daniel Alvarez. In
the wake of the city's 1995 heat crisis, he told the press that its
victims were "people who die because they neglect themselves." But heat
kills people like Eddie Slautas not because they are lazy or stubborn
but because they are under economic stresses. People with central air,
who almost always survive heat waves, tend to have higher incomes;
larger, newer houses; better plumbing; and higher education levels. All
of those factors are also associated with lower heat-related mortality.
Heat death rarely visits well-to-do neighborhoods; its victims are
typically found in economically forgotten, concrete-rich,
vegetation-free nooks and crannies of the larger cities. In the 21st
century, air-conditioning has become almost universally available, yet
heat waves continue to kill.
Reducing that death toll will require changing communities, not just
individuals. One of several studies of the 1995 Chicago heat wave
concluded that "features of neighborhoods on a relatively small
geographic scale (e.g., amount of pedestrian traffic, small shops,
public meeting places) affect survival rates [positively]." Marie
O'Neill of the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, the
lead author of one of the studies and of the research that produced the
numbers in Table 5, says that while "air-conditioning is protective in
the home setting," when heat waves come, home climate control is "less
holistic and, of course, the more climate-damaging alternative in the
long term." Both her own observations and the human experience
documented in Klinenberg's history of the 1995 tragedy, Heat Wave,
emphasize "the value of an overall healthier, more equitable, cohesive
neighborhood and society for the most vulnerable residents," according
Christian Warren is troubled by our dependence on artificial climate
control as a remedy for ills that run much deeper: "Now you see
air-conditioning pitched in the medical literature as an environmental
justice issue, because it can save lives during heat waves. It has come
to be regarded as another biotechnological tool. They aren't asking what
really kills people. What about isolation, economic stress, crime, and
paranoia about crime? You can easily imagine a couple staying shut away
in their air-conditioned apartment during a hot spell, uninterested in
checking on their elderly next-door neighbor, who could be dying of heat
If current greenhouse emissions continue, excess heat-related deaths in
the United States could climb into the range of 5,000 per year by 2050.
The EPA suggests that public health officials prepare for more frequent
"extreme heat events." Recommended actions include designating
air-conditioned public buildings and some private buildings like movie
theaters and shopping malls as cooling shelters, providing public
transportation to the shelters, and (in vaguely sinister-sounding terms)
targeting homeless people for "protective removal" to cooled spaces.
Cooling centers have become a common and highly effective strategy for
protecting residents of big cities, not only against killer heat waves
but against more routine hot weather as well. But for people already
dealing with health problems, it's not easy to find the right
temperature balance in a public cooling space. For example, during a
mid-August 2009 hot spell, some of those taking refuge in a
well-air-conditioned senior citizens' center in Brooklyn were found to
be covering their shoulders with sweaters in order to stay warm. One of
them, 78-year-old arthritis sufferer Vida Ebrahim, told the New York
Times, "My apartment is so hot because the ceiling is low, so it keeps
the heat. Oh my God, it's murder. But the air-conditioner, it gives me
so much pain in my shoulders, in my knees."
Over the past decade, gains in the general energy efficiency of
appliances have been wiped out by our growing reliance on one device in
particular: the air conditioner. Just since the mid-1990s, as the U.S.
population was growing by less than 15 percent, consumption of
electricity to cool the residential, retail and automotive sectors
If people in India, Brazil and Indonesia used as much air-conditioning
per capita as we do (and why not, their climates are hotter than ours),
they would consume not only their own electricity supplies but also all
of the electricity in Mexico, the United Kingdom and Italy -- plus all
60 nations of Africa! The air-conditioning of America's homes,
businesses schools, and vehicles causes the release of greenhouse gases
equivalent to 400 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
But while working on Chapter 1 (pdf) of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable
Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World, I learned that there are still
plenty of people who, out of ecological and other concerns, live without
air-conditioning -- even in the hot heart of the Sunbelt.
Chris George and Dani Moore, for example, kept their windows open and
their refrigerator stocked with ice water through the entire summer of
2009 in Tempe, Arizona. I visited them on the second-hottest day of the
year, when it was 114 degrees outdoors and 100 in the kitchen.
Sheila and John Stewart have been opening their 1920s-era house in St.
Petersburg, Florida to Gulf breezes year-round since 1984; Sheila told a
local reporter in 2006 that life in hot, humid Florida without
air-conditioning is "a thermostatic thing. Your body gets used to it."
Meanwhile, we residents of central Kansas are no strangers to
triple-digit temperatures. Torrid south winds can ripen our eight
million acres of wheat overnight. But my wife Priti and I have lived
here for the past 10 years without air-conditioning. Life in Kansas, and
before that, in India, has taught us a few ways of adapting to heat.
As I see it, if you want to get some really creative ideas for keeping
cool at the height of summer, go to someone who has figured out how to
live without air-conditioning on the fringes of Phoenix -- the world's
number-one urban heat island -- or in the sun-broiled steambath that is
So I asked John, Sheila, Dani, Chris and Priti to help me come up with a
summertime guide to remaining comfortable -- or at least of sound mind
and body -- without air-conditioning. IT IS THIS: When heat gets buggy,
turn on A.C. Keep it on til sunset.WET EVERYTHING OUTSIDE IN GARDEN.
KEEP IT WET ALL DAY.
If you follow any of this advice, it may be out of a desire to reduce
your carbon footprint or your utility bill. But we're betting that as
you begin to realize some of the benefits of the non-refrigerated life,
you'll find yourself looking for more opportunities, even excuses, to
turn off the air-conditioning.
Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kansas. His book
"Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World,"
will be published next June by The New Press.
Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kansas. His book
"Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World,"
will be published next June by The New Press.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Our POSTER is ANITA SANDS HERNANDEZ, Los Angeles Writer, Researcher, mother of 4 and career Astrologer. Catch up with her websites TRUTHS GOV WILL HIDE & NEVER TELL YOU, also The FUTURE, WHAT'S COMIN' AT YA! FRUGAL LIFE STYLE TIPS, HOW TO SURVIVE the COMING GREAT DEPRESSION, and Secrets of Nature, HOLISTIC, AFFORDABLE HEALING. Also ARTISANRY FOR EXPORT, EARN EUROS....* Anita is at email@example.com ). Get a FREE natal horoscope "my money/future life" reading now + copy horoscope as a Gif file graphic! No smarter, more accurate DESTINY reading out there!
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