Turn Down The AC

Well, it’s that time of year again when I grab a light jacket before I head to a big box store or a restaurant. I refuse to be cold in the middle of July when I’m spending money somewhere.

I know it’s hot outside but that doesn’t mean we should keep mittens in our car.

America’s love for air conditioning regularly makes the news, like the now infamous piece written for The Washington Post in 2015 whose headline was: “Europe to America: Your Love For Air Conditioning Is Stupid.”

In the article, the European author points out that in countries like Germany, for instance, people regularly go to work on hot summer days to offices without air conditioning and they’re no worse for the wear. The article claims America suffers from “First World Learned Behavior,” which is a nice way of saying we’re spoiled. And now that we’ve all become accustomed to air conditioning, the article points out, there’s no going back.

The New York Times recently did a piece on air conditioning as well, pointing out that women, more than men, complain about the cold air. That comment inevitably invited all sorts of comments from people who jumped on the “air conditioning is sexist” bandwagon.

A writer named Taylor Lorenz then wrote a piece for the Atlantic magazine that insisted that women are less productive at work because they’re cold.

“Like buy a fan,” she tweeted. “Ur not gonna die lol. I should be able to wear dresses in the summer and not get hypothermia. Weird that making women slightly more comfortable and productive at work causes so many men to have a mental breakdown.”

I’m not weighing in on the argument about air conditioning being sexist, but I will venture to say there are places I avoid because it’s unnaturally cold inside their doors. And I’m one of those women that don’t like to be cold, and it often gets me wondering how it came to be this way.

Here is the question: Do Americans really need air conditioning?

It all started here in America folks, more than a hundred years ago, thanks to a man named Willis Carrier, and now a full 90 percent of Americans have some form of air conditioning. Japan is the only country that has more AC than we do. And as globalization makes the people of the world wealthier, more and more people will find themselves at a big box store looking to buy a unit or two when summer hits.

Cold is now viewed as a luxury.

Contrast the times today with the 1960’s, when only 12 percent of people had air conditioning. How did we all survive?

In the New York Times article, called “Do We Really Need Air Conditioning?” written just a few weeks ago, the author explained that building temperatures are “largely controlled by building managers, to industry standards that aim for the thermal comfort of 80 percent of a building’s occupants – which means, of course, that 20 percent will be uncomfortable, if not miserable.”

That makes sense to me as I’m obviously in the 20 percent.

Even though temperature standards are updated regularly, most buildings are set between 74 to 76 degrees, but even so, many people are shivering in sweatpants and sweaters in those temperatures. I think that’s because air conditioning is a different kind of cold.

Interestingly, men appear to be happiest at 70 degrees. (Unless it’s winter. My husband would be happy at 60 degrees, especially when the heating bill comes.)

The next argument dissing air conditioning is whether it’s actually good for us or not.

“If you have a badly maintained or badly designed AC system, whether it’s in your home or office or vehicle, it can become contaminated and potentially harmful,” says Dr. Mark Mendell, an epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health, as he explained in a 2015 article for Time Magazine.

On the other hand, exposure to airborne pollution particles can raise your risk for hospital admissions and premature death due to cardiovascular issues, says Dr. Michelle Bell, a professor of environmental health at Yale University. Bell’s research found the use of well-maintained AC use lowered a person’s risk for these health complications. “Use of central air conditioning causes less outdoor air pollution to penetrate indoors compared to open windows,” she says.

All I have to say is that it’s not easy being human. Everything appears to be bad for us-even being hot, although only one in 2 million die of heatstroke each year.

Rather than argue politics or health, I don’t mind simply stating that it’s a bit too cold for some of us in a myriad of establishments summer after summer.

If your customers are wearing sweatshirts and sweatpants-maybe a scarf-it might be a good idea to experiment with the temperature within a few degrees and see if you can make everyone happy.

Good luck with that.


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