At Home in Our Environment

We have had a few hot days lately, and so the complaining has begun, as it always does, usually by the same people who complain about cold in winter and rain in spring and raking in autumn, which is to say almost everyone, at least it seems that way to me.  Wherever I go, people are constantly rushing from their air conditioned houses to their air conditioned cars to their air conditioned offices to their air conditioned shopping centres to their air conditioned gyms, most of which keep the air cooler in the summer than they keep it warm in the winter, so that you almost need to wear a sweater indoors.  The outdoors has become merely a desert to traverse between one oasis and another, and as quickly as possible.  Any temperature higher than twenty-five degrees is an imposition, something to be endured for only as long as necessary and then remedied with all possible haste.

What seems to be lost on this culture of artificial environments is that most of the world’s population manages to endure much hotter climates without any air conditioning at all.  They wear appropriate clothing.  They organize their routines so that they rest during the hottest parts of the day and do their work when it is cooler.  They stay in the shade as much as possible.  In other words, they adapt to their environment. They endure it as  part of living in their landscape and their habitat.   The human animal is capable of this.  It has been doing it for the life of the species.  There is nothing that prevents it from doing so now.  Nothing accept laziness and gluttony, of course.

We live in a world that faces the manifold implications of high energy consumption, with oil prices continually rising faster than inflation and constituting the biggest driver of inflation, with air quality around the world steadily declining, with global climate change threatening to cause any number of unpleasant problems, and with the occasional energy disaster (the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, for example, or the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown) just to top things off.  Yet, despite all this, our culture still insists on air conditioning itself, not just on the hottest days, when a certain degree of air conditioning in certain places could conceivably be said to be necessary for the elderly and the invalid, but most of every day, at a temperature that is indefensible by any standard at all other than the most excessive self-indulgence.

What is more, this unwillingness to experience our climate distances us from our environment.  It makes us strangers to it.  We are no longer at home in our landscape and our habitat.  We are disconnected from the world, prevented from living in it naturally.

It is possible, however, to live otherwise.  It is possible to turn off our air conditioners, to wear clothing that breathes in the heat, to do our business in the cooler hours.  It will hurt no one to sweat a little, to feel the sun a little, to endure the heat a little.  If nothing else, quite apart from any benefits to the environment and the economy and the energy crisis, it will remind us of the place where we we live.  It will relocate us in our landscape, make us more aware of our habitat.  It will, in other words, make us more at home in our environment.

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2 comments
  1. Sandy said:

    You definitely make some good points. I think we are obsessed with air conditioning in North America. I don’t complain about the heat or the cold, but I also live in a climate-controlled house that has remained comfortable these last few nights. I think for a lot of people, sleep is too important in their lives to risk losing it by being uncomfortably hot.

    I also think that when we are talking about temperatures in the mid 30s, that it WILL do some harm to be exposed to that, particularly pets and the elderly. But your main point is that people could deal with a little more of the fluctuating air temperatures without complaining or removing themselves from it, and I’m with you on that.

  2. Lauren said:

    While I think there’s no denying that living on Ontario means being subjected to unpleasant temperatures on either extreme, with two lovely but still slightly inconvenient seasons on either side of the more extreme ones, you make a very good point about how cold we tend to keep things with the air conditioning. I tend to run somewhat cold naturally, and when I worked at Manulife I wore the same clothes to work year round: sweaters, long pants, socks, and shoes. The temperature they kept our building at in the summer was nothing short of ridiculous.

    I like the idea of finding ways to adapt to our climate, rather than expecting it to adapt to us. I might take that as a bit of a challenge when winter comes, since I generally spend it hiding and grumbling rather than adapting (I haaaaaaate winter and the months of November-March usually see me drinking a lot of hot chocolate, wearing a lot of ridiculous hats, and praying fervently for spring).

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