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.