Casaubon's Book

As most of the country slowly roasts in one of the worst heat waves so far, I thought it was worth reminding people that one can stay safe in the heat, even without air conditioning. This is important now for the millions of people who don’t own air conditioners, who don’t want the environmental impact of an air conditioner, or who find themselves for various reasons, without power in the hot weather. As we all know, this is peak season for brown and blackouts.

There are a lot of parallels between dealing with extreme heat and extreme cold in a difficult situation. The first and most important one is understanding the likely victims of each crisis. The most likely victims are people in extremely hot places (duh), often extremely hot places that haven’t been that hot – for example, during heat waves there are often more victims in Chicago than Houston. Why? Because people who live in Houston are both physiologically and pragmatically better prepared for hot weather, becuase they have hot weather more often.

Global warming means that people in hot places are likely to see more extreme heat, and thus bear the brunt of the weather, but it also means that those of us in cooler places need to know this stuff too – since we’re probably not as well prepared.

The most likely victims of heat related illness and death are people who are already vulnerable, without a lot of community and social supports, whether we are talking about heat or cold. In fact, most of the people who die are elderly, disabled or ill, and they live ALONE. Tt might actually be more accurate to say they die, not from heat or cold, but from isolation and lack of support in a time of physical stress.

So as we talk about life without power in a heat wave, start thinking about your community and neighborhood. Are there people who are potential victims? Well, now would be the time to get to know them, start checking on them occasionally, build a relationship so that no one in your neighborhood dies from lack of other people’s support. If you think of heat and cold related deaths as caused by isolation at least as much as temperature, then we find ourselves having some responsibility to keep one another alive. This is, I think, important in tough times.

Anyone who has trouble perceiving their body temperature or changes will have difficulty handling extreme heat. For example, Eric’s grandfather, in his 90s (Eric’s grandparents lived with us in their last years), felt cold pretty much all the time. It took some persuasion to get him to drink sufficiently and give up his wool sweater on the hottest days, Without this small, simple, easy, low tech attention, he could easily have been a victim.

Children are vulnerable as well, because they don’t necessarily know enough to stop running around, to keep hydrated and seek shade – parents need to keep an eye on this. Anyone with respiratory illnesses is also vulnerable – keep a close eye on kids and adults with asthma or other related health problems.

How do we keep cool? Let’s begin from internal systems outwards. This is different than the traditional developed world model that suggests that the best way to adjust temperature is not to adjust your body, but to heat or cool a whole house.

Just as it is possible to live without heat if you have sufficient food to keep you warm, it is possible to live without cooling in the worst hot weather for most people, but not without WATER. Without adequate water, you risk serious health consequences.. Add to that the fact that the most likely times to experience widespread power outages can affect water availability, and heavy storm backlash that contaminates water in warm times, and you have a recipe for being in a very hot period, often having to do strenuous things to adapt, with no water.

This is very bad. This is why you should store water, have a good filter system and work with your community to have back up water systems – because dehydration kills, and most heat mitigation strategies involve water.

Storing water is very simple – water will keep 2 months with no additives (you have to change it every couple of months) in old soda bottles, and you can use what comes out of your tap. There really is no excuse for not having some water on hand – all of us can do this. and best do it before you need it. If you have a freezer and any space in it, your freezer will run more efficiently if you fill it all the way up – so you can fill old bottles with water (leave room for the water to expand as it freezes) and store your water here, with the added benefit that your water will then be cold as it defrosts. If you wish to store water for more than two months, add 7 drops of bleach to the water, and rotate annually.

How do you know if you are drinking enough? Well, if it is really hot, you should pretty much always have water around. If you are working hard in hot weather, you should be drinking pretty constantly – and some of what you drink (assuming you aren’t eating things that fit this) should have a little bit of sugar or fruit juice in it. This site has information in making rehydration syrups and also what the best things to drink when you are dehydrated are.

This is something everyone needs to know this, not just people in hot places. But ideally, don’t get dehydrated to begin with if at all possible. You urine should be light colored, not dark. If it is dark, get drinking.

Make sure that babies nurse often – yes, nursing in the heat sucks, sweaty body against sweaty body, but don’t let your child go too long without nursing in really hot weather. And nurse if at all possible – in a crisis, if safe water isn’t available, breast milk can save lives! During Hurricane Katrina, quite a lot of babies suffered from severe dehydration due to lack of available water and formula.

Moving on to the outside of your body, dress for the weather. There are essentially two theories of how to dress for hot weather. The first is to wear something roughly like the Indian selvar kemise – loose fitting, light colored cotton clothing that covers your whole body, keeps the sun off you and allows you to breathe. Add a natural fiber hat that also breathes (remember, covering your head will keep in heat if it doesn’t), and you are well set. The other possibility is “as little as possible” – this will depend also on where you live and how much time you spend in the sun and a host of other factors. I personally think the former has a lot of advantages, but there are many people who prefer the latter.

Ok, once you are dressed, how to deal with the heat? Again, we come back to lots and lots of water. If you don’t have to sit in a board meeting, you might be able to sit in a pool – even a kiddie pool can do a lot. If you don’t have that much water, how about a pan of water to put your feet in? Soak a bandana and put it over your head, or around your neck. Take a shower. Or if the power isn’t on or you can’t, fill a bucket and pour it over your head or dip it over. Sponge bathe.

Get outside in the shade – and if you don’t have shade, make some, both in and out of your house. If you live somewhere hot, you need trees, lots of them. Plant trees that will shade your house and minimize your cooling costs and need for air conditioning (and to enable you to live without it). Vines can provide quick shade over your windows – you can plant them in containers and trellis them up over windows if you don’t have dirt. The more green stuff around you, generally, the cooler you will be. Urban dwellers with flat roofs might look into green roofs, which help reduce heating and cooling costs.

Use awnings, blinds and shade screens to keep sun from warming the house. Open windows at night and close them during the day. If your heat is dry, hang wet laundry or sheets up in the house to reduce the temperature. Swamp coolers use less electricity than a/c. Just as insulation is the key to minimizing heat usage, it is also the key to cooling – just make sure you do it well and keep good air quality and ventilation in mind. Use common sense, and keep doors closed if one area gets more sun/heat than another.

Stay outside as much as you can if it is cooler outside than in, especially if outside has a breeze and the air quality isn’t too horrible. Sleep there – this is what people did before air conditioning – they slept outside because the house didn’t cool down enough. City folks slept on balconies and even fire escapes (latter is not legal or safe and I’m not recommending it), others got out in their backyards. Certainly do all cooking outside, or if you must cook inside, cook everything that needs heating the night before or early in the morning and don’t cook again. Part of our problem is that we are such an indoor people – both for acclimation and comfort, we need to recognize that life can be moved outside, to the porch, the yard, etc… when time requires.

Once, farm families had summer kitchens screened or outdoor cooking areas designed for dealing with summer and keeping the heat out of the house. A simple screen house could provide eating and sleeping shaded areas, while a nearby firepit, earth oven, grill or sun oven (and probably better yet a combination) provides food preparation. Others might move a wood cookstove outside, or get fancier with some permanent structure – the more summer you have, the more this might be wise – having a way to simply keep most activities outdoors seems to be a fairly basic strategy.

If you can, shift your work times – get up very early, stay up late, sleep or rest or work quietly during the hottest periods. Get a headlamp so you can do chores outside at night. Don’t exercise much during the worst weather, if you can avoid it (many people have no choice).

What if the power comes on? For most people, air conditioning is a mixed blessing – as you become accustomed to heat, your body begins to adapt to it, to sweat more and handle the heat better. Air conditioning can provide a blessed relief, but too much time spent in air conditioning can also prevent your body from actually adapting to hot conditions, making you feel the heat more.

This gets people into the vicious circle of needing their a/c more and more – and then gets the whole of society into the vicious circle of brownouts, blackouts and more air pollution from the coal plants and dirty diesel backup generators. I realize there are places where this is not viable, but I encourage people who do not physically have to use air conditioning to avoid it whenever possible, and to air condition as small a space as they can tolerate.

Now we come to the fly in the ointment – air quality. While pure heat can be dealt with, there are many people who simply can’t tolerate the air outside during the hottest weather. For those who are ill, or vulnerable to air quality (and while we vary in sensitivity, poor air quality affects everyone), and those who have to do strenuous stuff are at high risk.

If there’s power in your area, you can go to a/c shelters. If nothing else has power, your local hospital may, and might allow someone with severe health issues to sit in their lobby. If there is no a/c around, go near water – even a small lake will have slightly better air quality over it, as well as cooler temperatures. You can also soak a bandana, piece of muslin or cheesecloth and tie it over mouth and nose to reduce pollutants and cool the air into your lungs. For those who have to be working outside, move slowly, take it easy, and again, drink.

If you have a serious health problem that means that the air quality and temperatures in your area are intolerable to you during routine summer temperatures, you may have to think about relocation. The statement that no one needs to die from cold is not quite as true for heat, sadly – that is, as long as we pollute air as heavily as we do, there are going to be people who suffer from that. If your life depends on adequate heat or cooling or air cleaning being provided by grid systems, I really don’t like saying this, but you would be smart to seriously consider living in a place where you are not endangered – or less often endangered. Because fossil fuel or grid power or money to pay the bills for those things may not be available, even if your life depends on it.

In the meantime, take it slow, keep cool, and enjoy the ripe things that love this weather!

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 JoAnna
    July 21, 2011

    Just 3 hours ago I got totally sick of the look people have been giving me when I say we live without A/C in both our house (by choice) and our car (it broke). It’s not that big of a deal, but they look at me as if I’ve just said that I like to eat babies…raw.

    We rely on big shade trees around our 150-year old brick house, and fans. A few nights ago, I attempted to cool off with an icy mint julep. That was a mistake. Now we set hydration goals (at least 3 tall glasses between dinner and bed) and we’re really just fine.

  2. #2 PCinSC
    July 21, 2011

    as a retired nurse, i say “thank you” for your effort. excellent advice.

  3. #3 Nicole
    July 21, 2011

    JoAnna, people look at me like I have three heads when I say my thermostat is on 80F, so I can guess what you are getting! I freeze at work in the 65F refridgerator we are forced to be sedentary in… and it’s 105F outside.

    When it’s really hot and sunny, a bandana doesn’t do much good since it dries out or heats up too fast. A sopping wet towel (hand towel size) is better and a neck cooler that has an absorbant filler that retains the water is better yet.

  4. #4 stripey_cat
    July 21, 2011

    I don’t know that north european heat can compare, but I’ve always found it hard to eat during extreme heat. If I switch the main meals of the day to a very early breakfast and a late supper, with only small snacks during the day, I endure much better. Rich, protein heavy meals seem harder to bear than plainer dishes, too.

    Also, emphasis on the water thing: I’ve drunk twelve litres or more in a day exerting myself in 40C temperatures.

    In extremis, I found that dampening the bed-linen or my nightclothes would let me get to sleep on even the hottest, stuffiest nights. This is also a handy trick if toddlers are refusing to go to bed because it’s too hot.

  5. #5 Elf Eye
    July 21, 2011

    JoAnna, we also get along fine without air conditioning in our home in southwest Virginia. We have a lot of trees around our house, and we keep the house closed up–windows shut, blinds drawn–throughout the day until the outside begins to cool off. As soon as it feels cooler outside than inside, we turn on the whole house fan that exhausts the interior air into the attic while pulling cooler air into the house. We run the whole house fan until we turn in for the night. We also have ceiling fans in all three bedrooms, in the living room, and in the study. Whenever we spend time in one of those rooms, we turn on the ceiling fan. We also keep the lights off as much as possible. Combine trees, closed blinds, whole house fan, ceiling fans, and switched off lights and you end up with a tolerable house even on hot and humid days.

  6. #6 Si Fir
    July 21, 2011

    Thank you,as somebody who is disabled and hates the heat I really appreciate this. However it may be worthwhile to point out that if people do want to plant trees for shade that most species require a lot of water. Even in cold and rainy England climate change has hit trees hard and it is worthwhile to do a little background reading to find trees that will suit local conditions and endure drought. I would never have a garden without a pond, not only does it create a cool spot but it’s great for wildlife. Even the smallest space can have a container pond made from something like a half-barrel.

  7. #7 Eric Lund
    July 21, 2011

    If you have a basement, it will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than the rest of the house (absent climate control), so consider spending time there.

    Shade is critically important–it can be 10 degrees or more hotter in direct sun than in shade. So if an outdoor area where you need to work is shaded during a certain part of the day, consider adjusting your schedule so that you do the work while the area is shaded.

  8. #8 Andy Brown
    July 21, 2011

    Sharon,

    You should clarify that the 7 drops of bleach is per gallon rather than per soda bottle!

  9. #9 Ewan R
    July 21, 2011

    You urine should be light colored, not dark. If it is dark, get drinking.

    This could be taken quite the wrong way!

    On clothing – I’m a massive fan of light and loose (and vented! Although a $75+ vented shirt probably isn’t part of sustainable living…) – I get some very odd looks out in the field in 100F+ weather clad as I am in full body cover, wide brimmed hat etc – but I get to retain my natural blue scots skintone and feel much more comfortable than I would if I had the vaguest amount of skin on show.

    Acclimation also a great point… I’ve found that 85F at the start of the hot season can wind up being more uncomfortable and painful than 98F after a good couple of weeks prancing about in the heat – as such I now try to get myself acclimated as the temps go up, rather than hiding indoors until work forces me out into the midwest sun.

  10. #10 Art
    July 21, 2011

    The difference in dress style, all-round covering versus as nude as practicable, comes from different climates. If humidity is low and temperatures very high, around 100F, an all-round covering absorbs the sweat, evaporates, drops the temperature, and creates a micro-climate around the body.

    Do the same thing in high humidity and you will be miserable because the clothing surrounding you will get and stay wet. The humidity outside your covering may be near 100% but inside the sweat soaked cloth covering it will be higher. Which means less evaporation and less cooling. Coverings in high humidity become smothering and impede cooling.

    Which goes a long way to explain customary dress in various hot regions. People in tropical climates, warm and humid, tend to wear very little. People in hot and dry climates go for all-over coverings.

    This simple humidity divide also changes cooling methods. In hot dry places ‘swamp’ coolers work quite well. A towel kept wet with water cools incoming air and drop the temperature through evaporation. The same device set up in tropical zone often just raises the humidity, making you more miserable, and serves as a focal point for mold.

    A helpful bit to remember when trying to stay cool is to ‘get low’ and ‘hug the earth’. Heat rises and it is often several degrees cooler on the floor. Second, if you can get underground you get a nice cooling effect. It may be pushing, or over, 100F on the surface but even down in Florida it is in the seventies a few feet down.

    Even on then proverbial burning sands of the desert it can be 140F on the surface but fifty degrees cooler less than foot underneath. People have survived and walked out of deserts by digging in every morning and walking at night.

  11. #11 Kat
    July 21, 2011

    Thanks so much for this practical advice. Not much of it is news to me – I grew up in the country, with 45°C summers and unreliable electricity (which also powered our water pump). We didn’t have air-conditioning at all.

    I’ll be passing on this article to my friends who can’t believe that we have neither heating nor cooling at our house – and much of the advice is also useful for disaster preparation (i.e. earthquakes and bushfires).

    Thanks again!

  12. #12 D. C. Sessions
    July 21, 2011

    For most people, air conditioning is a mixed blessing – as you become accustomed to heat, your body begins to adapt to it, to sweat more and handle the heat better.

    Bear in mind that acclimation is slow — it takes pretty near five years to fully acclimate to a hot climate, and there are actually anatomical differences in people who grew up where it’s really hot [1]. Persistence counts.

    Regarding water: don’t forget the electrolytes. It’s possible to consume upwards of 20 liters in a day (I’ve done it) and have precious little of it end up in the toilet. Our Outdoor Emergency Medicine training on environmental emergencies suggested a urine output of two liters per day. That’s a lot, but the takeaway is that you watch output, not intake.

    Some people just can’t sweat enough to keep cool. Spray bottles can make up the difference very nicely.

    Sitting is hotter than standing. Standing is hotter than strolling.

    I’m a fan of layers. A very thin layer of silk next to the skin wicks moisture away for comfort; an outer layer of loose loose-weave cotton holds moisture for evaporation.

    Know the wet-bulb temperature. Some parts of the Midwest are seeing it sneak up to the upper 20C range or higher; over 30C is into the range where your body is going to have a very hard time cooling itself to a healthy level by sweat alone — certainly not during exertion. We lost a runner in Arizona a few years ago because she overheated despite good fluid intake.

    Sleep: the sky is cold. Outdoors under cover is quite a bit warmer than outdoors under the sky.

    [1] Per work done at Arizona State’s physiology department long ago.

  13. #13 Risa Bear
    July 21, 2011

    A white roof can save you 10 to 15 degrees F. We’ve never had air condition — we’re now in our sixties.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/12305112@N07/5843426363/in/photostream/

    Also we made blinds from burlap bags and use them on the inside in the winter (along with the storm windows and on the *outside* in the summer. Shading the windows is cooler than just shading the room, from inside the glass. This year our hops vines on the south and west sides of the house have matured –and the maples are finally getting tall enough to help. But the white roof seems to make the biggest difference. Comes in five gallon buckets — just broom it on.

  14. #14 Tony P
    July 21, 2011

    While waiting for a bus to get downtown I noticed something. Air Conditioning has become standard in pretty much every vehicle out there, including the buses.

    Saw so many with those tinted windows rolled up tight.

  15. #15 Gen
    July 21, 2011

    You can make some great neck coolers by sewing some rectangular cloth strips (think long and narrow) into tubes. You can sew or tie the ends shut when you are done. Fill these with a few tablespoons of the floral water retention beads. Soak your bandana in water and drape it around your neck. Add your wide-brimmed hat and you will be much cooler for hours. This is an easy but useful project for kids at summer camp.

  16. #16 Chad
    July 21, 2011

    Great post! I’d like to recommend something else. I live in rural south Louisiana where it can be quite warm and humid this time of year. Something that I always keep with me when I’m out working is a wet neckerchief around my neck to keep my carotid arteries cool. It has many other uses, of course, but I find this practice very helpful. I’ve used it while tilling the garden as well as fishing in the marsh and I never leave home without one. Take care and keep cool.

    Chad

  17. #17 Neil Craig
    July 22, 2011

    Useful too when the anti-technology crowd have got the politicians to make us dependent on windmills and the wind isn’t blowing during a temperature inversion.

    Mind you life without air conditio9ning is survivalble – 30 below in the midwest winter without heating isn’t.

  18. #18 Stephen B.
    July 22, 2011

    Actually Neil, the facts say otherwise regarding heat and cold.

    It’s a fact that heat waves kill far more people than cold spells do.

    I’ve survived winter camping when I’ve been outside for days and days when it’s below freezing and that’s without the benefit of a solid building around me. Based on that, I have no doubts I could survive many days if not much longer of near zero and below zero outside temperatures with (an unheated) building to hang out in. It wouldn’t be fun, but it would be doable.

  19. #19 Stephen B.
    July 22, 2011

    Also for Neil: I own a house in Aroostook County, Maine, where I routinely saw morning temps of -15 to -25 for most of January and February of the past winter.

    Cold? I know of what I speak. :)

    One more thing – Due to local history and geography, Aroostook County gets its power from the New Brunswick, Canada grid as opposed to the ISO New England Power Grid that the rest of Maine uses. The NB grid gets the majority of its power from renewables such as hydro and biomass along with a growing wind component. Renewables *don’t* mean freezing in the dark.

  20. #20 Greenpa
    July 22, 2011

    Unless I missed it somewhere, you missed a big piece of it.

    Animals. Don’t forget your animals. Pets and livestock have just as much trouble with extreme heat as you do- and you’re in charge.

    There’s a ton of advice out there for helping livestock get through heat waves. The most important point, often missed- DON’T wait until your animals are stressed before you do something.

    We take it seriously. Moved our animals into paddocks where we have water pressure, and could spray them down. And of COURSE those paddocks have ample shade.

    One of our immediate neighbors did NOT understand it all- and the result was over 100 dead cows. They eventually called the fire department, in a panic, to come and spray them out in the field- but it was too late.

    In western Minnesota, the local papers reporting THOUSANDS of dead turkeys, hundreds of cattle and pigs. Not too much ruckus in the mainstream press yet, but I’m guessing they’ll eventually pick up on it.

    Our animals came through fine; here in Minnesota the heat has passed, and the animals moved back into regular pastures.

    One benefit to look forward to- it’s astonishing, afterwards, how COOL 80° is; downright comfy.

  21. #21 Sharon Astyk
    July 22, 2011

    Greenpa, that’s a good point – this post was focused only on humans, but animals are at risk too. Our rabbits are especially vulnerable – they get their own frozen soda bottles to snuggle up to, since the babies and the angoras can die easily in the heat. The goats and calves have plenty of water and plenty of shade.

    Neil, there’s plenty of evidence that people can conserve heat successfully and design to live only on body heat in small, contained spaces. Unfortunately, heatwaves are major killers – cold doesn’t have to be, heat, with the air quality issues it comes with, is harder to navigate. Both can kill, but cold doesn’t have to – Lapp people, for example lived in shelters heated only by body heat at 30 below and more.

    DC, the idea of wearing a layer of silk, which doesn’t breath that well, in this weather does not appeal. Different strokes, I guess.

    Sharon

  22. #22 Greenpa
    July 22, 2011

    “this post was focused only on humans” – I know; and I know you know- etc. :-)

    As we work here on “integrated” sustainable agriculture, I really do feel my identity getting fuzzy around the edges. The chickens, cats, dogs, sheep are, very seriously, our symbionts- we are part of the same creature, so to speak. Our farm is becoming a superorganism.

    Tends to make my already fuzzy logic oriented brain even more fuzzy. :-)

    Heat does that, too.

  23. #23 future heat
    July 22, 2011

    Worth thinking about…

    Between 2010 and 2019 [9 years], temperatures equaling the hottest season on record from 1951 to 1999 [a 48 year period] could occur four times over much of the U.S,

    Noah Diffenbaugh and Moetasim Ashfaq
    Woods Institute, Stanford University
    Geophysical Research Letters
    Intensification of hot extremes in the United States.
    August 2010

  24. #24 et
    July 22, 2011

    If you move food prep and cooking outside remember that clean up goes along outside, unless you want to attract ants, racoons, rats and other freeloaders.

  25. #25 Neil Craig
    July 23, 2011

    Stephen you may be good at low temperatures but in Britasin we have an excess of about 25,000 pensioner deaths annually of winter over summer. The phenomeon is undeniable. On a population proportion that would be about 125,000 in the UIS though it may be varied either by the US having an average temperature higher than ours or by the fact that, except near the coast, your winters are much colder, We evolved for Africann temperatures so it is hardly surprising we are more vulnerable to cold.

  26. #26 V.Manoharan
    July 23, 2011

    Just whiteroofs will be sufficient to avoid heat related problems. Also it is the only cheapest and the most effective way to reverse climate change problems. Whiteroofs reduce local heat, reduces evaporation loss of water which in turn will reverse the climate change problems. One square feet of whiteroof may avoid atleast 50 to 100 litres worth of water loss in a location, in one year.

  27. #27 Benjamin Geiger
    July 23, 2011

    Neil:

    You’re forgetting one very crucial aspect: You can put on a lot more clothing than you can take off. If it’s 40 below, you can always put on seven layers, but if you’re naked, you can’t get any nakeder.

    Art:

    Precisely. People try to compare Florida (where the humidity is in the high 80s year round) with places like Arizona and the desert portions of California.

    I’ve visited Palm Springs before; even walking four or five miles on foot, with temperatures in the high 90s, I wasn’t horribly uncomfortable. Sweating worked; it didn’t just drip off of my face like it does here in Florida.

  28. #28 Tenebras
    July 24, 2011

    Neil that is a failure of your system then, not human physiology. If the Lapps and the Inuit and whoever-else can survive the cold, so can the British, if they’re knowlegeable and prepared and willing to aid their neighbors. The lack of those three things is what’s killing them. Do something about it instead of complaining about sustainable energy.

  29. #29 Neil Craig
    July 25, 2011

    Excess winter deaths in the USA 108,500

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/01/06/winter-kills-excess-deaths-in-the-winter-months/#

    Check these things out before you make an ass of yourself Tenebras.

  30. #30 Playtoplaydo
    July 25, 2011

    I grew up in Arizona where triple digit temperatures (100 – 118 degrees F.) are the norm. Take care of outside business in the early mornings and late evenings. Wear a big hat and loose light-colored clothing. Run for cover when the mid-day heat is at its worst. Avoid burns by keeping exposed skin away from plastic car seat covers, steering wheels, metal surfaces, concrete, asphalt and dirt… yes, dirt. Carry plenty of water… enough for yourself and at least one other person.

  31. #31 Pohranicni Straze
    July 25, 2011

    My great-grandmother grew up in south Louisiana with no A/C and never took to it. Every time her son moved, he built her a little house on his new property, and every time she refused to let him install A/C. She said it made her feel sick. I spent a lot of my summers with her when I was young- I kept a fan pointed at me while I slept, she didn’t even do that. And now with my wife (who grew up in Bangkok), I have to fight to keep the temperature in the house at 78, as she will turn it up to 80 – 81 when I am not looking. So a lot of it is definitely acclimation.

    Home design can definitely have an impact as well. My previous home, an early 1900s foursquare in Memphis, had 10′ ceilings, wood floors, and windows on every wall- even in a hall closet. When the power was out for two weeks due to Hurricane Elvis, my house was still relatively pleasant- if a bit warm- while nearby houses with lower ceilings and carpeted floors were pretty miserable.

  32. One of the unpleasant ways that being foster parents has affected our lifestyle is in terms of living in a sustainable way. The first time either a CPS caseworker or a therapist who comes to our home for one of our foster sons commented on our not having the AC on, I knew we were in for some serious changes to our energy-saving ways. It is challenging but when other people are projecting their idea of appropriate childrearing on you, compromises must be made. So while we’ve taught our foster son to not flush the toilet every time he pees, we can’t get away with a fan-cooled house when caseworkers come to visit in the hot part of the summer. We are trying to find other ways to have less environmental impact, but I can’t help but feel resentful that having all these professionals in and out of our house has compromised our teaching our kids how to live sustainably.

  33. #33 TTT
    July 27, 2011

    Air conditioning is worth it, guys. It’s a major quality-of-life issue and for all intents and purposes is a non-negotiable component of whatever is worthwhile about modern civilization. If anything is worth energy, AC is.

    Everything has an environmental impact. “Whiteroofing” your house presupposes that you have a house, meaning land had to be cleared for it and trees felled for the wood, there will have been mining to create the metal filaments in the wires and appliances, etc. Then more mining to create the metal paint cans, who-knows-what chemical-intensive procedure to create the paint, and then, of course, exhaust from the truck fleet that transported the paint to wherever you bought it. And the impact of the roads the trucks drove on too. And does that house contain a cat? If so, its biodiversity impacts just got even worse.

    Why are those impacts to be taken for granted and normalized, but AC is not?

  34. #34 Jon
    July 28, 2011

    Years ago, on “The Streets of San Francisco” one of the cops had a mother who was freaking out from the heat wave. He told her to fill the bathtub with water and pretend it was a swimming pool. I’ve tried it, and depending on the humidity, it works.

  35. #35 Wow
    July 28, 2011

    “Air Conditioning has become standard in pretty much every vehicle out there, including the buses.

    Saw so many with those tinted windows rolled up tight.”

    At Motorway/Highway speeds, A/C is cheaper energetically than the drag introduced by having your windows open. If the air is dry, the extra throughput at high speeds means less build-up of heat and moisture in the car.

    At urban speeds, the A/C is using up fuel your car needs to move itself and airflow reduced so you need the fan working harder.

  36. #36 Wow
    July 28, 2011

    “If the Lapps and the Inuit and whoever-else can survive the cold, so can the British”

    The British can. It’s a Murdoch scare story to alarm people into thinking that mitigation of AGW is a bad thing. You know, the old “The gubmint is killing granpa!” schtick.

  37. #37 Wow
    July 28, 2011

    “”Whiteroofing” your house presupposes that you have a house, meaning land had to be cleared for it and trees felled for the wood”

    So I take it you don’t have a house.

    Note too, that having A/C presupposes you have a house or else your A/C is changing the climate of the entire region.

  38. #38 TTT
    July 29, 2011

    This isn’t about houses, Wow. This is about why people shouldn’t rely on weak and unsupported arguments that presume virtue upon themselves that they don’t actually have.

    All houses, and all of the maintenance thereof, are environmentally disruptive. That goes for whiteroofing, and the entire process of creating, packaging, shipping, and applying white paint. Those disruptions are completely ignored here because they are presumed to be better than the disruptions that go into air conditioning.

    And they shouldn’t be ignored, because they’re not any better.

  39. #39 TTT
    July 29, 2011

    To spell it out a little clearer:

    We have all proven ourselves to be perfectly willing to accept, and even directly cause, environmental disruptions for the sake of having a home. Let’s not now overlook those impacts and disruptions as we cluck over the people who use AC in their homes.

  40. #40 Isis
    July 29, 2011

    TTT: Oooooh! I understand now. So really, I should go and get myself that SUV that I’m going to drive whenever I have to travel more than half a mile, because after all, those walking shoes that I’ve been making so much use of to transport myself from one place to another take resources to make and to ship and every once in a while I accidentally step on a bug and kill it. Everything has an environmental cost, so if those walking shoes are okay, then a car (a big one, while we’re at it, because it’s so great to be elevated while driving!) must be perfectly fine as well. Thank you so much for opening my eyes.

  41. #41 D. C. Sessions
    July 29, 2011

    Sharon: WRT silk, you might try it.
    It wicks moisture away from your skin, and the overlayer of loose-weave cotton manages the evaporation for cooling. It’s surprisingly comfortable if you haven’t tried it.

    In premodern Japan, the silk trade was a very big deal largely because silk was tremendously more comfortable in hot, sticky summer weather.

  42. #42 Nonny-Ho
    July 31, 2011

    Just whiteroofs will be sufficient to avoid heat related problems.

    Not true in high humidity climates. Necessary, but not sufficient.

  43. #43 Wow
    August 1, 2011

    “This isn’t about houses, Wow.”

    When you say:

    “”Whiteroofing” your house presupposes that you have a house, meaning land had to be cleared for it and trees felled for the wood”

    Then in what way is it NOT about houses? I mean you mention a house, and mention how a house means all sorts of landscape modification/degradation. So in what way is this not about houses? It seems you don’t actually read what you write.

    “This is about why people shouldn’t rely on weak and unsupported arguments”

    Yet still you do. Why is that? Are you attempting to illustrate what happens when you do that?

    “All houses, and all of the maintenance thereof, are environmentally disruptive.”

    I thought you said it wasn’t about houses, TTT. Is it about houses or are you still misspelling a word?

    “Those disruptions are completely ignored here because they are presumed to be better than the disruptions that go into air conditioning.”

    No, they’re being ignored because the disruptions that go into A/C is OVER AND ABOVE the disruption of having a house.

    Assuming it IS actually about houses, unlike your opening statement.

  44. #44 TTT
    August 22, 2011

    Congratulations, Wow–your streak of missing every single point that ever comes your way continues unbroken.

    All houses are gigantic clusters of environmental impact. As I’ve pointed out about 3 times now–mining, chemically mixing, packaging, and shipping all the materials for this paint involves MORE environmental impact. No one has tabulated these impacts here. No one even seems to ACKNOWLEDGE them. Where is the proof of net environmental benefit? Obscured behind your clueless quibbling, which really does seem to be a feature and not a bug.