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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Dilemma of Air Conditioning

I drive a 1999 Mazda Protégé with 170,000 miles. It runs great and could serve for years more. Unfortunately, its air conditioning compressor died this week. My consistent experience with automobile A/C across many vehicles is that once the original equipment has failed, it will never work reliably again – regardless of how much money you throw at it. Besides, I’ve got better uses for $1000.

None of my childhood homes in central Alabama had air conditioning. For that matter, when I entered Georgia Tech in June 1972, the dormitory didn’t have air-conditioning. Somehow we learned to survive in the heat and humidity. By my sophomore year I had ingratiated myself into Tech’s huge computer center whose machine rooms were kept at 60°. Over the next 8 years I became acclimated to those chilly environments, and I still am. My favorite tourist destination is the coast of Oregon where it’s usually 55-65° on summer days.

In 1960 Florida and Georgia had a combined population of 9 million. Today it’s 28 million. There are many reasons why their headcount tripled over 50 years, but it wouldn’t have happened without ubiquitous A/C. We thereby increase demand for consumable resources of nature like coal and oil, that we know carry both environmental and personal hazards. We also increase greenhouse gases and other pollutive substances. (Note: somebody I’ll blog about nuclear energy.)

I’m a hypocrite, of course: I’m typing this in a 73° room. One of my friends from high school has undertaken a fascinating change in lifestyle; his subsistence farm in central Alabama has no A/C. I admire his courage and commitment to principles, and I freely confess that I couldn’t do it.

Meanwhile, most of the world lives without A/C. Immanuel Kant makes me ask whether the world could sustain A/C for 7 billion people. I think not, so the question becomes: Are we living in an immoral albeit addictive fashion?