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Air-Conditioning Is Terrible for the Earth -- Here's How to Live Without It

We live in a society that has been built around the idea of energy-intensive cooling. Here are some easy ways you can stay cool and cut your summer energy consumption.

This story was written by Stan Cox, Priti Gulati Cox, Chris George, Dani Moore, Sheila Stewart and John Stewart, with an introduction by Stan Cox.

Over the past decade, gains in the general energy efficiency of appliances have been wiped out by our growing reliance on one device in particular: the air conditioner. Just since the mid-1990s, as the U.S. population was growing by less than 15 percent, consumption of electricity to cool the residential, retail and automotive sectors doubled.

If people in India, Brazil and Indonesia used as much air-conditioning per capita as we do (and why not, their climates are hotter than ours), they would consume not only their own electricity supplies but also all of the electricity in Mexico, the United Kingdom and Italy -- plus all 60 nations of Africa! The air-conditioning of America's homes, businesses schools, and vehicles causes the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to 400 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

But while working on Chapter 1 ( pdf) of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World, I learned that there are still plenty of people who, out of ecological and other concerns, live without air-conditioning -- even in the hot heart of the Sunbelt.

Chris George and Dani Moore, for example, kept their windows open and their refrigerator stocked with ice water through the entire summer of 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. I visited them on the second-hottest day of the year, when it was 114 degrees outdoors and 100 in the kitchen.

Sheila and John Stewart have been opening their 1920s-era house in St. Petersburg, Florida to Gulf breezes year-round since 1984; Sheila told a local reporter in 2006 that life in hot, humid Florida without air-conditioning is "a thermostatic thing. Your body gets used to it."

Meanwhile, we residents of central Kansas are no strangers to triple-digit temperatures. Torrid south winds can ripen our eight million acres of wheat overnight. But my wife Priti and I have lived here for the past 10 years without air-conditioning. Life in Kansas, and before that, in India, has taught us a few ways of adapting to heat.

As I see it, if you want to get some really creative ideas for keeping cool at the height of summer, go to someone who has figured out how to live without air-conditioning on the fringes of Phoenix -- the world's number-one urban heat island -- or in the sun-broiled steambath that is southwest Florida.

So I asked John, Sheila, Dani, Chris and Priti to help me come up with a summertime guide to remaining comfortable -- or at least of sound mind and body -- without air-conditioning.

If you follow any of this advice, it may be out of a desire to reduce your carbon footprint or your utility bill. But we're betting that as you begin to realize some of the benefits of the non-refrigerated life, you'll find yourself looking for more opportunities, even excuses, to turn off the air-conditioning. — Stan Cox

A Guide to the Great Indoors, Without Air-Conditioning

We now live in a society that has been built around the idea of energy-intensive cooling. That will have to be reversed, and it won't happen overnight. But if you don't want to wait that long to cut your summer energy consumption, here are a few ideas. We came up with these collectively, and not all of us do all of these things. Some may not apply directly in your region of the country or world. And you may have some tricks of your own for staying cool that aren't listed here.

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