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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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  • Portable and ceiling fans: These are essential.
  • Portable swamp cooler: Quite effective in dry climates.
  • Refrigerator: Keep a large supply of water in the fridge. Also keep an eye on any perishable food. In especially hot homes, most breads and fruits will quickly go bad unless refrigerated.
  • Freezer: Be vigilant about refilling your ice trays. Also, don't be afraid to use the freezer for more creative uses. At some point in the summer, cold foods and beverages won't stay cold for long once you take them out of the fridge, so consider keeping a few cereal bowls or drinking glasses in the freezer. That way, they'll keep your food cold as you enjoy it. And, hey, if you're getting dressed up for any reason, try putting an undershirt or other clothing in the freezer for a few minutes before putting it on. It will keep you cool as you finish dressing and get out the door.

But unplug anything you don't need. Any household device that runs on energy in the form of electricity or gas also releases much of that energy as waste heat. The fewer things you have turned on, the less heat you have to deal with. There's a reason that around the world, kitchens traditionally have been separated from the main house. Cut back on boiling and baking especially. Try grilling outside to keep the kitchen cool. Grill enough food on the weekend to provide several meals, then warm it up in the microwave during the week. Keep any unneeded lights turned off. Energy-efficient light bulbs and refrigerators pump out less heat than conventional ones. If you haven't turned off the water heater, take tepid, not hot, showers, to avoid filling the house with a big load of humidity. And use advanced solar technology -- the clothesline -- to dry the laundry. You'll find clothes drying faster in the warmer temperatures, even if hung indoors. And as a bonus, pets love the drying rack because of its evaporative cooling effect.

Go back to the cave: If you have a basement, take advantage of it. The Flintstones' rock ranch house must have been a furnace in summer; our actual Stone Age ancestors would certainly have appreciated geothermal climate control as they took refuge in their caves. If the humidity gets uncomfortable down there, a fan or room air-conditioner can take care of it at very little energy cost. If you don't have a basement, cool a one-room refuge with a small air-conditioner that can be turned on only when needed.

Make shade: Vegetation cools twice, by shading and by evaporation. For the long run, plant trees, especially on the south and west. In the shorter run, or if trees won't work, put other types of tall plants -- giant reed, sunflowers, or even corn -- along the sunbaked sides of the house.

Open up, and have no worries: It's a subject we might rather not discuss, but decorative grilles are very common on ground-floor windows in hot countries around the world. Fear of crime has been cited as a factor in American urban-dwellers' reluctance to open their windows. In both homes and office buildings, protective grilles (let's not call them "bars") can be a green construction feature.

Workers of the world, thaw out! In the workplace, we often have much less control over the indoor temperature than we do at home. The number-one summer complaint of people working in large offices is that it's too cold. If, instead of blowing on their hands or taking sweaters or space heaters to work, the nation's overchilled employees united to demand a less frigid summer work environment, there is no telling how many power plants could be closed down.

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