Do Americans Need Air Conditioning?
Now that Summer is in full swing, cooling down at the end of the day is near the top of everyone’s mind. While for many, Summer automatically means off-hour exercise and drinking a lot of ice water, others feel it’s more appropriate to hide out in a refrigerated room, windows closed and long sleeves on. These day folks seem convinced that summers are getting warmer and they personally are getting less tolerant of being hot. The question is, “If we can afford it, shouldn’t we be comfortable?”
A recent New York Times article asks readers to ponder;
“Think about that term: air-conditioning,” said Mark Feeney, a culture critic at The Boston Globe who suffers at work and does without at home. “Do you want to condition your air? Your skin maybe, or your hair. I’m a vegetarian, but I didn’t become one for any specific reason. It just happened. But there are all sorts of ex post facto good reasons for not eating meat. Same with AC: If you modify your actions, it’s good for the planet, it’s good for everyone. Also, I’m a lapsed Catholic and I’m Irish so I need a certain degree of self-imposed suffering in my life and I guess this qualifies.”
It turns out gender is less a predictor of thermal comfort than other factors, like age, activity level or, tellingly, the relative wealth of the society surveyed, according to studies conducted by researchers at the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.
People in countries with lower G.D.P.s, said David Lehrer, the communications director and a researcher there, are more comfortable with a wider range of temperatures. It appears that first world discomfort is a learned behavior.
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