New York, losing its cool

A few years ago (or maybe more) when scientific reports about global warming filtered into the mainstream, I recall feeling immensely anxious. The predictions were apocalyptic, and it was hard not to worry about what lay in the future for the human race.

Luckily, climate change ceased to be new or “news” and the reports faded. The Onion encapsulated this phenomenon, in December 2011 publishing an article entitled “Report: Global Warming May Be Irreversible By 2006,” and nailing the issue, as always.

It’s kind of evident to many people across the world that climate change is happening. I listen to BBC Radio 4 with some glee every morning, as they weatherman/woman announces yet another dreary rainy day in England. Last summer, I spent ten weeks at home in Ireland and the sun shone for a single day – it didn’t even get tepid.

Meanwhile, New York is a murky bed of heat, with temperatures in the 90s over the past few weeks, accompanied by drippingly high levels of humidity. But this is where the paradoxes begin. You might think that climate change would be an issue in the US, where extreme weather has decimated corn crops this year. But the notion  of energy preservation is about as foreign (European, even) as public health insurance or a social safety net (to offer some cliches). I’m sitting in a library right now and frankly, feeling quite chilly. Everywhere, air-conditioners hum and there are tales, from friends and acquaintances, of having to pile on winter jumpers at work because the A/C is stuck at some freezing level.

Most shocking, and depressing, are the examples of A/C pumping and heating on simultaneously. I attended an event at Moma last week. The room was crowded and no chairs were available, so I considered perching on the little radiator by the wall. Then I realized it was too hot to sit on. At the same time the A/C was pumping cool air into the surrounds.

There are plenty of other examples in New York of waste of natural resources. In Bushwick, where I now live, local residents open the fire hydrants which subsequently pump water onto the streets endlessly through day and night. The purpose is to cool things down and to allow children to play in in the chaotic spray, and it’s cute – I don’t want to be a killjoy! –  but there must be better, more environmentally sustainable ways to let children have fun.

Last year Salon published a striking article on “The High Price of Staying Cool,” which outlined the environmental hazards of A/C. This will give a flavor of the argument:

But as science writer Stan Cox argues in his new book, “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer),” the dizzying rise of air conditioning comes at a steep personal and societal price. We stay inside longer, exercise less, and get sick more often — and the electricity used to power all that A.C. is helping push the fast-forward button on global warming.

I thought a piece like this would change people’s attitudes, and perhaps it did, among a few Salon readers. But, well, that was last year, so I suppose we don’t need to worry about it any more …

Do you have examples of inefficient A/C use? Please share!

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