America’s Sin of the Day

by Andrew Stuttaford

First there was Pope Francis raging at the iniquity of air-conditioning, now Rick Noack has jumped into the fray, taking aim in the Washington Post at America’s air-conditioning “addiction”:

The U.S. has been the world’s leader in air-conditioning ever since, and it’s not a leadership Americans should necessarily be proud of. According to Stan Cox, a researcher who has spent years studying indoor climate controlling, the United States consumes more energy for air conditioning than any other country. In many parts of the world, a lack in economic development might be to blame for a widespread absence of air-conditioning at the moment. However, that doesn’t explain why even most Europeans ridicule Americans for their love of cooling and lack of heat tolerance.

No, most Europeans do not “ridicule” Americans for their love of cooling. They have other things to think about, including, last month, as the Guardian reported, this (my emphasis added):

Several European governments have issued weather warnings as a heatwave sweeping through Portugal, Spain and France pushes temperatures above 40C (104F), raising concerns for elderly people and children. Paris, which has activated its national heatwave emergency plan, is particularly sensitive to the risks after a European-wide heatwave in 2003 led to nearly 20,000 deaths, killing thousands of isolated elderly people in France.

The French ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, has called on those in charge of air-conditioned public spaces, such as libraries, cinemas and shopping malls, to let in the public for respite from the heat. “I don’t think this heatwave will have the same consequences as the one in 2003 because we weren’t as prepared at that time,” Royal said.

To be sure, Noack does, accurately enough, note that there are both geographic and cultural reasons why Europeans use less air-conditioning, but then adds:

Another factor that may explain Europe’s sniffy reaction toward American cooling is the continent’s climate change awareness. According to a 2014 survey, a majority of Europeans would welcome more action to stop global warming. Two thirds of all E.U. citizens said that economies should be transformed in an environmentally-friendly manner. Cooling uses much more energy than heating, which is why many Europeans prefer sweating for a few days over continuously suffering under the effects of global warming in the future.

No it’s not. The reason is that they “prefer” sweating is (1) that installation costs are too high given the relatively few days in a year that air-conditioning would be needed, and (2) they fear the effect that AC would have on (already high) electricity bills.  

As a European transplant of partly Scottish heritage who appreciates the virtues of ceiling fans, I am (visitors grumble) more than a touch, well, frugal when it comes to AC, but if the puritans, bureaucrats and scolds come calling for this nation’s conditioning units, Americans should, if they so choose, hang on to them until they are pried from their lightly chilled dead hands. 

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