Good news: the heavy, humid air and the 90+ degree heat that had made it literally hard to breathe outdoors has finally abated.
For most of July, though, those of us who live in southern New England have been suffering through an extraordinarily hot and muggy period. It has been almost unbearable to be out-of-doors.
And so, when I started reading the latest issue of The Week magazine, an article on this very topic caught my eye. William Falk, editor-in-chief of my favorite news weekly, wrote a brief editorial commentary that I decided to re-post here, since his short piece in the print version is only available online to those who subscribe to the magazine.
The greatest invention in human history is not the wheel, and it’s certainly not sliced bread. As much of the nation broiled this week in temperatures in the high 90s and beyond, can there be any doubt that our most wondrous piece of technology is the air conditioner?
It was way back in 1902 that Willis Carrier created the Apparatus for Treating Air for a Brooklyn printing company—a breakthrough that, as it developed and spread over decades, changed the human condition.
Today close to 90 percent of U.S. homes have AC, but I am old enough to remember when it was still a luxury. During heat waves, people barely moved, fanning themselves in an oppressed torpor. Nights were a sleepless ordeal, with sweat pooling in your hollows. From such misery did Carrier set us free. Why is there no statute of this great American among the heroes at the National Mall?
Air conditioning is not merely a matter of comfort; it has given us modern life. It keeps people—and computers—working when the mercury climbs past 90, thus boosting the economy. It’s enabled a great migration of tens of millions of people to Sun Belt states that nature intended for lizards, not warm-blooded mammals.
And as the world warms, the demand for AC grows ever greater, consuming 20 percent of all U.S. electricity—and a rapidly growing share in India and China. Alarmed, some eco-warriors now suggest we all wean ourselves from Carrier’s invention and return to a more natural way of life.
Sorry: I’d give up my digital gadgets, my TV, and even my car before I went back to a world without conditioned air. If they come for my AC, they’ll have to pry it out of my wonderfully cold, dead fingers.
Our home has central air conditioning, Mr. Falk, and I feel exactly the same way about it. Well, almost the same way. If I had to give up my "digital gadgets" for air conditioning, I wouldn't have been able to post this. But to your point, without air conditioning, none of my digital gadgets would likely exist.
In a few weeks my wife and I will be moving to San Francisco, where we have a condo. We'll be leaving behind the hot, muggy east coast venue for the City by the Bay. Our condo there lacks air conditioning, which will make us, according to Mr. Falk, part of the 10 percent of the US population living in a home without AC.
That's okay, though. In San Francisco, it just never gets that hot.
But we do have ceiling fans in our bedrooms. You know, just in case.