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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.

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Bring the outdoors in: During the day, direct sunlight is the enemy, so keep the windows shut tight and block the light with blinds and drapes. If your house is oriented along the points of the compass, you can close the eastern windows in the morning and leave the western windows open. Reverse the process in the afternoon. Or just close all windows around noon. But at night, let the outdoors in. Pay attention to the outdoor temperatures and throw open the windows every evening to let the cooler air in. Open the doors to your porch or patio and let your indoor life flow in and out. Spending time on the front porch or patio is a nightly relief and strengthens connections to the neighborhood. Try sleeping on the porch, on a couch or in a hammock. A fan should keep you cool, and night sounds can be very relaxing.

Move the air: Your body is constantly producing heat, in amounts comparable to what's put out by a 100- to 300-watt light bulb. In hot or hot/humid weather, your body has a harder time ridding itself of that heat, creating discomfort. Air moving across your body is highly effective in helping you shed heat; indeed, the mass production of electric fans in the early 20th century probably made a bigger difference in people's comfort than did the later introduction of the air-conditioner. Attic or whole-house fans, when turned on in the evening after the outdoor temperature has dropped, replace hot air that has accumulated inside during the day with fresh, cooler air. Keep the air moving at night. If there's no natural breeze and you don't have an attic fan, use box fans to blow air in through a window on one end of your house or apartment and out a window on the other (and take that out-blowing fan seriously; it is equally, if not more, important). Replace plate glass with windows that open. Sliding glass doors can provide a wall-sized breeze. Remember that the coolest temperatures occur just before sunrise, so capture as much cool air as you can before the sunlight returns.

Get wet: Use water strategically. Drink plenty of it to stay hydrated. When you shower, turn the temperature way down to cool off your body (and for extra energy savings, consider shutting off your hot water heater; you'll probably still get warm water out of it when you want it). And respect the power of evaporation. Spray yourself with water every now and then, and you will quickly appreciate it. When going to sleep, spray yourself a few times and lie down under a ceiling fan or in front of a box fan, and you might even feel chilly. If it's not feasible to hit the lake or local swimming pool, but water supplies are sufficient, set up the lawn sprinkler. If the vegetable garden is getting dry, set the sprinkler to overshoot the sides of the garden a little and send the kids (or yourself) out to cool off in it. Lying in a few inches of water in the tub can cool your entire body, especially if you splash it on yourself or turn your body in the water. Try plugging the drain during a shower, then lying in the collected water for a few minutes. Then rinse off before getting out of the shower.

Use other appliances strategically: The goal may be to save energy, but don't let it stop you from using other appliances to help you stay cool. You will easily see in your electric bill that turning off the A/C more than compensates for extra use of these other appliances:

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