My husband, bless his heart, has agreed to live with me and my "we don't need air conditioning" philosophy -- although after a 101-degree July 4th and a string of days in the 90s, he complained for the umpteenth time that he's hot. I told him to just think of it as being sexy. "Sex sells" is the heart of marketing, after all. We've been asked why we don't want air conditioning. Well, here's my short list of reasons:
"Conditioned air" is unnatural. We live in Minnesota, presumably, because we enjoy changes in the seasons. Sitting in one's air-conditioned house is not conducive to enjoying summer's beautiful array of temperatures, bird songs, flowers, sunrises, sunsets, kids running through sprinklers, mosquitoes, and so forth.
It's detrimental to community spirit. When I walk the dogs, sometimes I have the streets of St. Paul to myself. It's an unsettling feeling in the middle of summer. Where is everybody? Judging by the sounds of fireworks last night, I know they're not all up at the cabin. Winter snows and cold separate us, and summer's heat does, too, apparently. The windows stay closed. If there's a window A.C. unit, the window can't be opened to let the fresh morning air and the cool evening breezes pass through.
It uses lots of electricity. Much of our electricity in Minnesota is generated by nuclear power. Our family pays a surcharge every month to support wind power, but that is still not our main source.
It requires chemicals that erode the ozone layer. Regardless of one's views on global climate change, surely we can all agree that eroding the atmosphere is a bad idea.
My husband and I tell our hot children that life is based on the choices each of us makes. We lecture them that they "vote with their dollars" with every purchase they make. Making a choice about where we spend our money on electricity is another example.
Our family lives a very cushy life compared to many of our fellow human beings on this planet. It doesn't hurt us to be "uncomfortable" a few days every year. In fact, the past several days, we have felt as if we better understand the more relaxed cultures in the hotter zones of the earth.
Life without conditioned air is lived in closer touch with the body. When one feels like a slug and it takes two minutes to lift one's arm, it really doesn't matter how many things are on the to-do list. Life moves at the pace the body dictates. It's an excuse to sit in the shade and drink lemonade.
Survival rates of a species depend on that species' ability to adapt. Our human bodies won't be adapting to our climate if we continue to live in climate-controlled environments. We need to rethink the many ways in which we alter our natural world in order to facilitate our human comfort.
We've made this hot decision for our children. We want to remind them, through our example, that they're not "entitled" to certain things. Life is full of choices. Not long ago, indoor plumbing was a luxury.
I'm not saying I want to give up my indoor plumbing, but that the more we have, the more we expect.
Shirley Erstad lives in St. Paul.
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