Has Air Conditioning Ruined America?

Perhaps no human invention has influenced the history of Miami more than air conditioning. It helped fuel our population boom, and without it, this place would be an inhospitable heat trap with average indoor temperatures suitable only for nude Bikram yoga. So, yeah, air conditioning is pretty great, but did you know it has also ruined America? It has made us fatter and sicker, is ironically speeding up global warming, and is partially responsible for the presidency of George W. Bush. At least according to a new book.

Science writer Stan Cox's latest tome, Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), dissects some of the inconvenient truths of local cooling. In an interview with Salon, he expounds on some of his more interesting claims.

See, America is absolutely addicted to AC. And not just warm places like Miami. Eighty-five percent of residents have it in their home. In fact, the United States uses as much electricity to power AC units as the entire continent of Africa uses to power, well, everything.

True, newer units are more efficient, about 27 percent more so than units 15 years ago, but because houses are getting bigger, 37 percent more AC is needed. So greenhouse emissions are virtually unchanged. Basically, our zest for keeping the indoors cooler is speeding up global warming outdoors. (Of course, going for a dip in the ocean is a good way to cool off, and the faster global warming occurs, the sooner Miami will basically be annexed by the Atlantic).

Some studies indicate we tend to eat more in cooler temperatures, and the siren song of controlled climate keeps us indoors sitting on our rumps more often. It'd be a big jump to imply that AC is among the main factors in America's obesity epidemic, but it certainly ain't helping much.

Moreover, staying inside all the time in the cool has eroded our natural tolerance for heat and allergens:

A lot of people run air conditioning because they're concerned about their allergies or asthma, but we need to consider the hypotheses that say that the current epidemic of those conditions is partly caused by lack of outdoor exposure to soil and friendly organisms. Maybe if children were out in the yard making mud pies instead of in a cool, sterile environment all day long, they might have a lot more defense against those problems.

Among Cox's most unique claims is that air conditioning has played no small part in the rise of the Republican Party thanks to its boost to migration to the South. And here we thought politics in America was full of hot air.

It's pretty much unanimously believed that if we had not had air conditioning, we could not have had this huge migration of population from the North to the Sun Belt, and we certainly wouldn't have seen 70 percent of all economic growth happening in the South since 1960. This has had major political implications by shifting electoral votes to predominantly red states in the South and West. In an imaginary world where air conditioning hadn't been invented, it could easily be the case that many of the big Republican victories in the '90s and 2000s would not have happened.
So basically, air conditioning contributes to some of the biggest problems America is facing. Then again, anyone who saw The Brave Little Toaster already knew AC was a grumpy jerk anyway.

[Salon via Runnin Scared]

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Kyle Munzenrieder