With the first record-breaking heatwave of the summer just over, and the craziness and crankiness the heat can bring hopefully behind us (for now), it's probably a good time to take a break from gawking at it all and start thinking about how we all can better cope with it.
After all, as our climate continues to change this sort of thing only becomes more and more likely—and there's lots we can do both individually and collectively to better deal with the heat on a daily basis to make ourselves more comfortable.
Remember one overarching thing here: As unusual as such extreme temperature patterns are throughout much of the United States, particularly the Northeast (if not so much the South and Southwest), there are plenty of places in the world where this sort of weather is the norm during the hot season and has been the case for a very, very long time.
Meaning, communities in many places have been dealing with sultry, sweaty summers for ages—and we in the United States can too (and did so, until very recently when meat locker air conditioning became the norm, with all the increased energy use and environmental impact that brings).
But this isn't a post about doing without air conditioning specifically—the TreeHugger archive is filled with those, and in its proper place and proportion air conditioning can be a great thing—but rather just a modest proposal, albeit one that may take some time to implement widely and the benefits to appear.
Let's start accepting and adapting to the heat ourselves rather than trying to continually (literally) power our way through it, like it was just some cool spring day and not a baking inferno outside at midday.
There are many ways to do this, some of which we'll explore over the coming days and weeks this summer, but the first one I'll throw out there is this: Summer hours, summer routines.
In its most basic form, it goes something like this: Start our days earlier, in the cool of the morning and work until the middle of the day; in the hottest part of the day we stop working, shut down, and avoid the sun, with businesses closing up; then in the late afternoon we start back up again. We work with the natural cycle of the day, rather than simply, machine-like, continue on oblivious to the rhythm of it all.
It's not complicated nor an original idea. This already happens all of the world. Taking a siesta isn't just about taking a nap an resting up and seeing friends and family, it's about adjusting to the natural flow of the day in hot climates. Just try to get any business done between 2-4pm in South India in May and you'll find many if not all stores and businesses closed up, with people simply relaxing in the shade. Come the evening everything comes alive again.
It can and should happen in the US too, at least for a great many businesses and people. Shifting work and life habits to allow for this heat coping routine will no doubt take some convincing—after all, we're used to just switching on the AC and ignoring what's going on outside. It also isn't necessarily appropriate in all situations, fair enough, but it would be in more situations than not.
If you need a clearly green benefit to all this, it's this: Provided everyone doesn't just retreat to their own personal air-conditioned paradise during the, say, 1-4pm summer afternoon break, we will reduce energy demand during the hottest part of the day, when demand has been traditionally highest and power generation systems are particularly stressed.
Reducing energy demand reduces carbon emissions, in turn helping reduce the very thing bringing about more extreme heat. Reducing energy demand in summer creates a beneficial cycle over the whole year.
Continuing to just push on through the heat, coping with it via air conditioning and ignoring the natural cycle of the day, just creates a negative cycle, increasing the need for the power, increasing carbon emissions and, several steps down the chain of events, increasing the heat itself.