Cool it! Naturally!

Give New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg credit for a creative solution to a problem that had him boiling. On these steamy summer days, he hated entering a parked car whose inside air had been superheated by the sun. (Who doesn’t, right?)

But it was a bit extreme of “Hizzoner” to install a window air conditioner in his official SUV (click here to read the New York Post story).

Ranked #11 in Forbes magazine’s list of American billionaires, Bloomberg can afford to pamper himself, but let’s face the fact: air conditioning has spoiled us all. Myself included.

This record-breaking summer I, too, have surrendered to the cool comfort of A/C, spending my days scurrying from one air conditioned sanctuary to another. This week, leaving a grocery store so chilly that it actually put gooseflesh on my arms and legs, I first felt steamed like broccoli in the humid, sweltering air outside, and then microwaved inside my sun-baked car.

Of course, my torment lasted only so long as it took the A/C to turn the car back into a frozen-food section.

So Mayor Bloomburg gets points for effort with the air-conditioner-in-the-window thing, but isn’t there  a better way?

The answer is YES. Some people have learned to live without air conditioning, and found — surprise surprise! — that heat is easier to live with when our bodies aren’t subjected to rollercoaster temperatures.

“You get used to it and adapt yourself,” said Priti Gulati Cox, who, along with her husband, Stan, have gone without A/C at their house in Salinas, Kansas, since 1977. Stan’s book, Losing Our Cool (The New Press, 2010) criticizes air conditioning as being bad for the environment and for people.

Using ceiling fans, window ventilation, strategic shade  and adequate hydration, the Cox family manages fine without air conditioning.  (Click here to read the New York Times article about the Cox family).

This would seem to make sense to many of us who came of age in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, before A/C became widespread. In those days, when it was hot you didn’t mope, you coped.

The air conditioning boom has some unintended consequences. For one, it’s put a chill on summer socializing. Not too long ago, hot weather would bring people outside — to their porches, their yards, their community parks — all places to chat with neighbors and friends. Kids would play outside. Now air conditioning tends to keep everybody imprisoned in their homes when it’s hot out.

More inside time means more isolation, more computer and television time and less exercise. Sounds like a recipe for obesity: Pass the remote, please — and the chips!

Air conditioning also costs money and uses energy. Lots of it. Consider this vicious cycle: As it gets hotter, more people turn on their air conditioners, thereby increasing the use of electricity-producing fossil fuels, which in turn heats up the planet. Oh brother!

So this summer, be a good steward of your health, your community, your pocketbook and the planet by using air conditioning wisely. Here are some tips:

-If possible, go without A/C. Learn from people like the Coxes, who cope with the heat using old-fashioned strategies: window fans, ceiling fans, cool drinks and comfortable clothing.
-If you have A/C, save it for the hottest days of summer, when you absolutely cannot take the heat.
-When you turn on the A/C, keep the settings only as low as you need it. Does it need to be 55 degrees for you to be comfortable?

There are lots of ways to beat the heat. Just don’t be like Mayor Bloomberg and put a home air conditioner in your car.

Copyright (c) 2012, the Rev. Rob Blezard. All rights reserved.

Reprint rights granted for congregations for nonprofit, local use. Please reprint with the following copyright notice:
© Copyright 2012, the Rev. Rob Blezard. Reprinted by permission.
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