The notion that air conditioning should be enshrined as a fundamental right is preposterous—there's a difference between feeling entitled to a luxury and defending a human right, after all. The New York Times saw fit to host a debate on that topic last week anyway, and Lloyd promptly skewered the 'we should treat A/C like clean air' contingent.
Treehugger's archive is loaded with posts about why air conditioning is a menace to society (abridged version: it encourages folks to live in hot, unsustainable areas, it nudges architects towards lazy, inefficient building design, and, obvs, it uses a shitload of energy). Getting that idea off the ground is uphill battle enough. So we rarely discuss why exactly it is people get so worked up when anyone suggests that it might be a good idea to wean ourselves off the habit of installing refrigerators in our windows.
Regardless of the substance of any particular conversation about the merits of air conditioning, most non-New York Times sanctioned debates devolve into something resembling the following:
"Air conditioning consumes too much electricity, and is largely unnecessary."
"Screw you, hippie. Being hot sucks."
It's true. You may have encountered such a rebuttal yourself.
Gawker has an amusing point/counterpoint on A/C that pretty perfectly encapsulates this dynamic. Hamilton Nolan, a native Floridian, argues that we've become too reliant on artificial refrigeration, that it has led us to inhabit climes we're unsuited for, that it uses too much energy, and that it's made us weak. He does so in typically Gawkerian fashion. Then, AJ Daulerio responds by noting that he doesn't like being hot and compares Nolan to a hydrofracking-hating Alec Baldwin walking around with a blanket on his head.
Obviously, the whole exchange was done in jest, but it's surprisingly useful in distilling the basic thrust of our conversation about A/C. Another real-world example: Joe Klein wrote an obnoxious article about why he doesn't like air conditioning, and then segues into why his bias was proven correct when it turned out to be bad for the planet. Dumb, but that doesn't account for the vitriol spewed forth from A/C-loving bloggers: "You don't like aircon? Fine. Go sit in your stupid fucking car and sweat to your heart's content. But leave me and my beloved Siemens out of this." [sic].
Which brings us full circle. Staunch defenders either honestly (and completely misguidedly) think that the world can actually somehow support 7 billion air conditioning units and more massive cities built in resource-starved deserts that no one would live in without A/C. Or, they don't think much at all and just know that they need air conditioning because it would suck not to have it.
That's a dismissive way of pointing out that people who've grown up with air conditioning (that's almost anyone reading this post) have actually forged a pretty serious bond with the unit, or at least with the way of life it enables. It doesn't seem like a luxury because it's so supremely ubiquitous, even though that's what it is. The notion that we 'need' air conditioning is a powerful social construct, pure and simple. To criticize air conditioning usage is to criticize the way we've assumed we're supposed to be living our lives. And so people get pissed off when it's suggested that A/C might be a bad idea.
Clearly, parallels abound with plenty of other pillars of modern consumer society—we feel equally as entitled to giant cars, big houses, water-soaked lawns, trough-like toilets, etc, etc. And ultimately, therein lies our problem: everybody knows how the entitled feel about giving up their stuff.
**The headline for this article was changed**