For such tame technology, air conditioning really packs a punch when it comes to enabling environmental obscenities, indefensible infrastructure, and shortsighted settlement patterns. In the story of how A/C came to underpin human overshoot, you couldn’t make up a better bad guy. Perhaps the most Batmanesque villain we’ve encountered would make a good candidate for mayor of Crazy Town (teaser: he’s been called “the scientist who almost destroyed the planet”). Join Asher, Rob, and Jason as they turn up the heat on air conditioning and contemplate how to stay cool in the days of heat waves, heat domes, and global heating. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Jason Bradford

Hi, I’m Jason Bradford.

Asher Miller

I’m Asher Miller.

Rob Dietz

And I’m Rob Dietz. Welcome to Crazy Town where our sports cars rest comfortably in air conditioned parking condos to make sure their Corinthian leather seats stay soft and supple.

Asher Miller

I like how you said the Corinthian.

Melody Travers

This is producer Melody Travers, in this season of Crazy Town, Jason, Asher, and Rob are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about air conditioning, and how a seemingly benign technology was able to spawn so many unsustainable practices. The watershed moment took place in 1930. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 307 parts per million, and the global human population was 2.1 billion.

Rob Dietz

Okay, Jason, you’re gonna get to the real watershed moment from 1930 here in a minute.

Jason Bradford

Can’t wait.

Rob Dietz

But I want to open up things with a bit of an appetizer for the main course. Think of this like a pre-watershed moment. Okay, so let’s go back 28 years earlier, back to the summer of 1902. It’s Brooklyn, New York.

Asher Miller

Super year.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. One you remember fondly, right? So there’s this printing company in Brooklyn. And it’s responsible for putting out this popular humor magazine called “Judge.” I’ve never read it.

Asher Miller

I bet it was hysterical.

Jason Bradford

I’ll go to the library. I’ll try to find it.

Rob Dietz

Probably good. But this company had a problem. See, it’s summertime and Brooklyn can get pretty humid. And all this humidity starts warping the paper that they’re trying to print on. And so then their text starts getting misaligned.

Jason Bradford

Smudges.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s not good. So they hire this young engineer, this guy named Willis Carrier to come in and fix the problem. And he develops this invention. He’s got this system that pumps air over metal coils that are filled with ammonia, which is very cold when it’s in liquid form. And if you think about this, this is basically the same thing that happens when clouds rise up mountainsides.

Asher Miller

There’s ammonia?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, they rain ammonia over the mountains. No. But as the cloud cools, because it’s going higher and higher up in the atmosphere. The moisture wants to come out of it. So that’s what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to get the moisture out of the air.

Jason Bradford

It’s called adiabatic cooling.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Exactly. Kudos to you, Jason, pulling out the PhD words.

Jason Bradford

That’s kind of what we’re all about with cloud forests.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. So of course, he’s doing this as a dehumidifier. But there’s this side effect that the room is cooler. Because he’s blowing air over these really, really cold coils. And pretty soon he forms a corporation called the Carrier Corporation, one of the largest air conditioning manufacturers in the world to this day, and plays a role in making that the ubiquitous technology it is. But I think a different technical innovation maybe has a more of a Crazy Town flair than Carrier. You want to fill us in on that one. Jason?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, this character is Thomas Midgley. And he is a chemist. And so Thomas Midgley is going to the American Chemical Society meeting in 1930. And he makes quite the impression, and I’ll get into that, but first, let’s back it up. The refrigerant that Carrier was using was called ammonia. We mentioned that and it was common in its day. But there are other things that you could use, like sulfur dioxide, methyl chloride. The problem was all these refrigerants were highly flammable or toxic, or both.

Rob Dietz

Oh, that’s good combination.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, so you know, and there’s leakage. Right? And so you’ve got your poisonous gases, flammable gases getting out.

Asher Miller

I mean, that’s just the cost of business. I don’t see the problem.

Jason Bradford

Well, I mean, good old General Motors, which owned Frigidaire, wanted to expand refrigeration into households and businesses, but they didn’t like the danger involved. So they are trying to find a safer alternative. And that’s why they hired this chemist, Thomas Midgley. So they hire him and they quickly are drawn to a class of chemicals, organic fluorides based upon just characteristics in the scientific literature, and within days, they have identified and synthesized dichlorodifluoromethane,

Asher Miller

I almost named my second child that.

Rob Dietz

Well, the first one was going to be dichloro and the second one difluoro.

Asher Miller

No, no, it’s first name, middle name last name is methane. I was thinking about changing my last name, because I’m so full of, you know. . . Okay, good. Sorry to interrupt

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, I needed to kind of catch my breath. Anyway, they’re in a class of compounds called chlorofluorocarbons. You’ve may have heard of our CFCs. Okay, so this particular one is commercially known as Freon, which we’ve all probably heard of.

Rob Dietz

Which would have been your child’s nickname.

Asher Miller

I freebase it regularly.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Well, so now that you mentioned that, guess who invented freebasing of Freon. Thomas Midgley.

Asher Miller

Midgley?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So here’s what he does in his in his presentation in this scientific meeting. He lights a candle so it’s very romantic and sets it on the table in front of the audience. He pours some liquid Freon into a glass dish that is at 18 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The thing, it’s cold, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that’s negative 28 centigrade for all our European compatriots.

Jason Bradford

Okay, you’re fast. You’re fast.

Asher Miller

That’s kind of you to do that conversion.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So of course at room temperature the stuff starts boiling off. And the rim of the glass is turning white with frost. And Midgley puts his mug right over this glass –

Rob Dietz

You mean his face? Or he had another mug?

Jason Bradford

No, his face.

Asher Miller

And this is how he turned into a Batman villain, right?

Jason Bradford

He just inhales the cold steam, and they can see the cold steam kind of going into him which is this refrigerant. And then he exhales gently in front of the candle and extinguishes it

Rob Dietz

So he really did become a superhero.

Asher Miller

Yeah, exactly.

Rob Dietz

What was his superhero name? Blower?

Asher Miller

No, it’s Freon. Come on.

Jason Bradford

So yeah, he’s demonstrating it’s safe, right? I’m inhaling this stuff. And it’s not flammable obviously, because I just  breathed it out over a candle, right? So he tells his audience that refrigerant is quote, “non-explosive. And we believe non-poisonous. It has not harmed animals. I have breathed quantities of it without lasting bad effects. When I took enough, it produced a sort of intoxication. The best way I can describe this sensation is to say that it is deadening. Instead of exhilaration, such as credited to alcohol, these fumes do not rouse the desire to sing or recite poetry.” The refrigerant still is in the experimental stage. But he makes a big impression.

Rob Dietz

His presentation would have been better if he had also gotten drunk and then was reciting poetry while extinguishing candles.

Jason Bradford

But you know, this guy did such a good job that he was immediately hired by General Motors and DuPont as the Vice President of this new company, it’s a joint venture called Kinetic Chemicals. And boom, they are cranking out within five years. Frigidaire and other manufacturers are using the chemical Freon and out competing all the others on the market, which are more dangerous, etc. And selling millions of refrigerators nationally. And also then, air conditioners. So these skyrocketed. And by 1978, 17.6 million American homeowners had central air conditioning and 25.1 million own room units. Nearly all of which are using these new chemicals, these CFCs.

Asher Miller

So quickly, this basically took over. Not only did it replace the use of of like ammonia and others, it created all these new products or helped create these new product.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, they’re safe, they’re relatively inexpensive, they get mass manufactured by these big corporations, right? Dream baby.

Asher Miller

And we want to focus obviously on air conditioning. That’s the thing that we want to home in on for this episode that we’re doing here. And I think it’s worth pointing out just how remarkable of a transformation air conditioning – and we’ll unpack this a little bit. But to give a sense, there’s somebody named Robert Fishman. In 1999, he surveyed a bunch of historians of urban and regional planning, right? Talking about sort of like the most important influences on the American city, right, the metropolis, in in the second half of the 20th century. What were the biggest deals that happened? And AC made the top 10 list. Air conditioning made the top 10 lis. Which if you think about it it really makes a lot of sense. It may be something that people take for granted, but it really did transform how people were living and where they could live.

Now, the original use, I think of air conditioning, was actually not in residential or commercial buildings where people were working. It was really for climate controlled manufacturing. And there’s the story, and her name is Marsha Ackerman. She wrote a book called, “Cool Comfort: America’s Romance with Air Conditioning. And in that book, she wrote that before 1920, air conditioning was used almost entirely in factories, where its role was to produce not human comfort, but manufacturing consistency under the control conditions of temperature and humidity that were made possible by this new apparatus. It reminds me of what you talked about with Carrier, right? Every bolt of cloth, stick of chewing gum, or machine rolled cigarette – Thank god for that – was supposed to look and perform a like, no matter what time of day, or season, or year it was made.

Rob Dietz

Thank God. I used to be bummed when I’d buy a pack of cigarettes and I’d get one that didn’t perform as well as the other.

Jason Bradford

Moldy paper is what it was.

Rob Dietz

Those ammonia cigarettes.

Asher Miller

When I think of air conditioning, I think obviously air conditioning in buildings where people are, right? And I hadn’t really thought about  how much of an impact that would make on the manufacturing of things like that.

Jason Bradford

I’m learning so much from this show. It’s incredible what you can learn listening to the show.

Rob Dietz

Unbelievable. The quality of cigarettes you can get nowadays.

Jason Bradford

Right? Well, okay. So early on the technologies for manufacturing for product consistency, really helping with that. And then before the 1950s, it was really used a lot in luxury kind of a places. And so, it wasn’t so much in these homes. But think about if you’re in a movie theater. And one of the last places you’d want to be in the summer is in movie there. There’s no windows

Rob Dietz

1,000 of your stinky, sweaty friends.

Jason Bradford

Think about the humidity and heat of all the people packed in to watch a movie. So movie theaters couldn’t attract audiences until they installed these ACs and then the summer blockbuster is able to be made.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that is weird. People always attribute summer blockbuster to “Jaws” and Steven Spielberg but it’s probably really Carrier and Midgley that make that possible.

Asher Miller

But even when I was a kid, I remember on super-hot days there was nothing nicer than actually going to a movie theater.

Jason Bradford

It was awesome. Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Well okay, so the technology is starting to spread into places like theaters but something happened right around that time. Basically after World War II, we get into the 1950s, the costs really started coming down. They were figuring out how to make units a lot smaller so the technologies may be getting a little better. But also on the demand side, ads start getting made to try to sell air conditioning to people who maybe never would have thought of having it before. And you guys are in for a treat. I found online on YouTube a pretty cool ad for – haha “pretty cool” ad, get it? For AC. And I want to play just like a 20-25 second clip for you. It’s called, “the case of the hot weather blues”

Ad

This was an unusual case. Unusual even though it was typical. It involved a housewife on a hot humid day, shopping in a nice school store. Dropping in for a cool refresher. Even a beauty parlor was cool. Ah, but when she got home . . .

Jason Bradford

Okay, I feel for the poor thing.

Rob Dietz

Well . . . I mean, let’s talk about everything that’s wrong with this ad first of all. We’ve got to have some fun here. I mean, it was an unusual case because it was typical, or what did he say?

Asher Miller

I don’t know

Jason Bradford

That’s just the style of the day. It was hilarious.

Rob Dietz

I love “Leave It to Beaver.”

Rob Dietz

And then he got this dumb like housewife set up. I mean, you guys didn’t even . . .  later on the business guy comes home. It’s so stereotypical of like, sort of “Leave It to Beaver,” white suburbia.

Asher Miller

With this weird film noir kind of feel. Like somebody is going to get murdered in this. At least they can keep the body cool

Rob Dietz

You know for her it’s like going to the mall is the joy, and coming home just sucks.

Asher Miller

Going to the mall, going to the grocery store, going the hair salon. I mean, what else do women do? Come on.

Rob Dietz

So basically, this thing is setting up, you know, trying to create this new demand for air conditioning. I guess it worked really well. Not maybe this particular ad but the campaigns in general. And so you have the two sides, the manufacturing is getting better, and of course American consumerism is jumping up and people want ACs.

Jason Bradford

Well, it’s not . . . So yeah, we’ve got the manufacturing areas, you’ve got the homes. You’ve also got the offices and retail businesses as this ad implies. So some of these are kind of racist actually, the ads. Because the Carrier Corporation-

Rob Dietz

Back to the Carriers.

Jason Bradford

Yes, they ran a series of full page color ads in the Saturday Evening Post. And one of the ads shows a dark skinned man sprawled on the ground with his face covered by a sombrero. And here’s what the ad says, quote, “Temperature 102? Production zero. Why have most great inventions and advances in science and industry come from temperate zones? Because for centuries, tropical heat has robbed men of energy and ambition. There was no air conditioning, so they took siestas.”

Asher Miller

I know this is so true. I mean, the Romans. They didn’t get anything done.

Jason Bradford

They got nothing done.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, nothing. Just siesta-ing. Is that the word? Yeah, I’m kind of jealous because I think that is a something we should adopt. I don’t care, temperate, tropical, arctic, like we should really have siestas.

Jason Bradford

I know. This is brilliant. This is America.

Asher Miller

But siestas get in the way of productivity.

Jason Bradford

Well think about the time. This is the managerial class, you know. They want people to be working for the man eight to five. Clock in, clock out. It’s regimented. Of course, the whole siesta system was when people kind of were working for themselves and in their community and you adapted to the moment. But we’re far into industrialization and urbanization and scientific management by now.

Rob Dietz

And we’re also in the era of stereotypes and racism and ads.

Asher Miller

Yes, exactly. Yeah, that’s well, okay.

Rob Dietz

So we had this great acceleration, which kind of seems to be a theme of ours among various topics but with air conditioning, especially. In 1960, 13% of homes in the U.S. had AC.  By 1980 – that’s just 20 years later – 55%. Talk about diffusion of a technology. And today, it’s around 90%.

Asher Miller

In the US?

Rob Dietz

In the US, yeah.

Jason Bradford

That is such a relief. I mean, we’re done. I mean now development path has reached its pinnacle of climate control.

Rob Dietz

I know. Everybody’s so comfortable.

Jason Bradford

We’re cool. We’re done.

Asher Miller

No. Sorry, guys. I mean, we don’t do this show if we’re not going to explore some of the downside, some of the dark side to this stuff, right?

Rob Dietz

Again? Again with the wet blanket?

Asher Miller

Yeah, sorry.

Rob Dietz

You know, wet blankets were actually the original air conditioning.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, better use of technology.

Asher Miller

Right. No, I think we need to spend a little bit of time talking about the shoe dropping in terms of some of the consequences of us going for this AC thing. Now, the most obvious one I think that people are familiar with is a hole in the ozone layer.

Jason Bradford

That happened a long time ago. Right? Remind us.

Asher Miller

Yeah, let’s go in the way, way, way back machine. 1977. It makes me feel old.

Jason Bradford

I bet a lot of young people don’t know this story at all.

Asher Miller

Then why not? Yeah. So there’s a young guy. He’s 24 years old. His name is Jonathan Shanklin. He gets hired as a physicist for the British Antarctic Survey. And one of his main jobs was checking the data on the amount of UV light that’s reaching the earth. They had these machines, these ways of recording this, and they would check it on a consistent basis. And that provided a pretty good estimate of how much ozone there was in the atmosphere. So his job was to sort of check on this data.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, let me interrupt for a minute here. And let’s talk about the ozone for a sec, because the ozone layer is the key for blocking a lot of the dangerous radiation that the sun would otherwise be bathing the Earth in. And scientists say that without the ozone layer, complex life on Earth is impossible, because you’ve just got radiation breaking down cells.

Jason Bradford

Ozone is basically oxygen and in the triplet form. so normally it’s an O2 form, but now this is O3 so it’s not a very stable molecule, but it does help block radiation.

Rob Dietz

And of course, for the enviro nerds out there, ozone at ground level is actually kind of a bad thing. It’s a smoggy. . .

Jason Bradford

Yeah. It smells weird.

Rob Dietz

But then in the upper atmosphere, it does this crucial job. And we’re all going to die if there’s no ozone.

Asher Miller

So maybe a little cause for concern if we find out that there’s a problem. And that’s what happened with Jonathan. First of all, there’s like a big backlog of data, right? They didn’t have spreadsheets that were calculating the stuff.

Rob Dietz

No automatic data logger.

Asher Miller

No, people were writing shit in pencil on paper.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, probably on napkins, right?

Asher Miller

On toilet paper I think it was. So, he had to collect all this stuff and he compiled all the data. And then he was putting it in and sort of going back a number of years. And he thought when he tabulated all this data that he’d get the same results as his boss had gotten from a decade before. The last time it sort of had been compiled and pulled together. And then he was in for a big shock, because since the late 1970s, there have been like a really dramatic decline, systematic decline in the ozone. By 1984, the ozone layer was only two thirds as thick as it had been earlier, just in recent history.

Jason Bradford

Just think about this though. This is some like tiny little Antarctic research group that may or may not have existed. Like there’s a potential parallel universe. These people don’t get funded. They don’t bother doing this.

Asher Miller

Yeah, they’re not collecting this data at all, right?

Jason Bradford

Right.

Rob Dietz

Thankfully, in that parallel universe, UV radiation is good for cells and cell biology.

Asher Miller

Well, no, it’s one of those things where I think if you have to apply quantum physics to this, if you don’t observe it, it doesn’t happen. So the problem actually was the he observed this in the first place.

Jason Bradford

I have to start closing my eyes.

Asher Miller

If we weren’t aware of it there would have been no issue at all.

Rob Dietz

So you’re basically saying, Jason, that Shanklin is a hero, but you’re saying he’s –

Asher Miller

I’m saying he’s a villain. Yeah. No, and truth is, you know, when they compiled this, and he looked at it, and he was like, “Holy shit. Something is happening here.” Researchers were able to pretty quickly conclude what the cause was. And that was the CFCs that were used in air conditioners and refrigerators and aerosol cans. I mean, I remember –

Jason Bradford

Oh my antiperspirant.

Asher Miller

Well yeah, exactly, man. My Right Guard. I’d spray that in my pit. We don’t do that anymore.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I don’t do that anymore. I don’t do anything.

Asher Miller

And again, villain, this guy. . .  If he didn’t fucking do this, we could still be spraying our pits.

Rob Dietz

Okay, well, look, while we’re on the subject of villains, let’s go back to your guy, Jason, Thomas Midgley for a second.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. The chemist.

Rob Dietz

The showman of the American Chemical Society. So in the press, he’s got some pretty cool monikers. He has been dubbed, I’m going to give you guys several of these, he’s been called, the most dangerous man in the world. Okay? He’s been called the scientist who almost destroyed the planet.

Asher Miller

Please tell me they put that on his tombstone? I would do that if I were him.

Rob Dietz

Oh, they get better. How about this one? The man who has had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history?

Jason Bradford

I don’t think so. There’s the organisms that are creating oxygen. That was a big deal.

Rob Dietz

But single organism.

Jason Bradford

Oh, a single organism. Yeah. Okay.

Rob Dietz

So, but here’s the kicker you guys. See, he not only developed freon but he also developed leaded gasoline.

Asher Miller

Nooo. Are you serious? Okay, I’m starting to get it about dangerous man.

Rob Dietz

As you noted in his demonstration, he invented huffing as well. All those kids with their . . .

Asher Miller

Do you think that there’s a school named after him anywhere in the country? I think we need to go on a campaign to make sure that they change.

Rob Dietz

Imagine you can trace all the whipping cream cans that children are sucking stuff out of it.

Asher Miller

I mean, at first when you read this, I was like, Hey, that’s not fair. This dude is just a scientist geek who was given this task of finding an alternative. And he found a great one, right? But then when you brought up the leaded gas I’m like, “Okay. . . ”

Rob Dietz

I mean, you realize we’ve talked about precautionary principle and the idea of like, don’t unleash something on the world until you know its potential effects.

Jason Bradford

No, they  found it within weeks and we’re like manufacturing in days.

Asher Miller

He was breathing it in, and he was like, “I’m not dead. It’s all fine.”

Jason Bradford

Yeah. “It’s somewhat intoxicating. A little buzz.”

Rob Dietz

I mean, I know poetry is being recited, but it’s not actually saved a lot of people exactly.

Jason Bradford

Well, okay, but there’s a positive side to this. Because, you know, we humans, we need to rise to a challenge. So he created a challenge to spin it. And that led to then this thing called the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which is considered the most successful international environmental agreement of all time. It’s amazingly fast.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, just think how fast your Right Guard cans were just ticking away.

Asher Miller

Um you know, people are knocking on the front door of the house, like coming into the bathroom, just pulling things out.

Jason Bradford

I mean, I was a high school student when this was going on. And it was suddenly that the Right Guard can is evil.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And can we talk about that like metal can that sprays this stuff out and has an ozone killing substance in it? To make your armpit smell almost as bad as they did before.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. We lost our cans from May 1985 to this protocol. In 1985. It was two years from like, “Oh, shit, we’re losing ozone.” To suddenly like, “We’re done.”

Asher Miller

That is pretty incredible actually.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So that agreement happens so fast that the production and consumption of these ozone depleting substances, boom.

Asher Miller

Well, of course, it is remarkable to see, and a lot of people talking about the Montreal Protocol as this like exemplar. The thing that we aspire to just try to get agreements. It’s like the model for that.

Jason Bradford

Yes, yes.

Asher Miller

But let’s be honest. I mean, part of the reason why that was is because it was pretty easy to substitute these CFCs with other things. It didn’t require the dramatic transformation of the entire global economy.

Jason Bradford

And deodorant works in a stick form as well. So what’s the big deal?

Asher Miller

Right, exactly. And even if God forbid, we had to give up sticks, we smell a little bit.

Jason Bradford

We smell a little bit.

Rob Dietz

You’re saying they had a substitute chemical ready to plug into air conditioning and refrigerators?

Asher Miller

Yeah, which was a big reason why they were able to move so quickly.

Jason Bradford

Because the industry didn’t have to resist because they can still start selling.

Asher Miller

They’re still selling their Right Guards. They’re just putting different stuff in it.

Rob Dietz

But what I mean, what’s crazy, though, is it took a long time to actually enforce even though the agreement came into play, right?

Rob Dietz

That’s true.

Rob Dietz

There was a smuggling problem wasn’t there?

Asher Miller

Yeah, I mean, yeah. And I think –

Jason Bradford

All the huffing addicts.

Asher Miller

That was a big part.

Rob Dietz

When you think about like, you’re living in a really hot place and you can buy a smuggled can of freon real cheap and basically plug it into your AC and now you’re comfortable. Who’s not going to do that?

Asher Miller

And there’s still cases of seeing that there’s still CFCs in use. And it’s hard to pinpoint where that’s happening. I think from an economic standpoint, incredibly cheap form of cooling. So yeah.

Rob Dietz

It actually reminds me of what’s happening with climate change. I mean, you have this conflict that’s playing out where you can solve something around your personal comfort, you know. You could burn as much fuel as you want, in the case of climate, and the effects are really far away.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, you can smell like Old Spice if you want. I mean that’s incredible.

Rob Dietz

Well it just seems like it’s analogous, right? Like, of course you’re gonna short circuit the virtuous behavior because it’s cheap and easy to do.

Asher Miller

But I will point out, I mean, we have substituted a very significant amount, right? We’ve made progress on this. And that’s where it’s a little different because we were able to substitute most uses of CFCs. And that’s where maybe it’s not quite so analogous. Because it’s a completely different animal to transform where our electricity production comes from and how we’re moving ourselves.

Rob Dietz

Well, the whole idea of unleashing freon and then the ozone layer is at stake. I mean, that’s really only putting one foot into Crazy Town. We gotta get the other foot. Yeah. So I want to run some numbers by you guys. And these come to us from our friend, Stan Cox, who has made his way through some of his research into this podcast before. He wrote a book about 10 years ago or so called, “Losing our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about our Air Conditioned World.”

Asher Miller

Can I just stop for a second and give Stan like a ton of credit here?

Rob Dietz

A little shout out, yeah.

Asher Miller

Because the dude has written a lot of really interesting books. And we’ve talked about his book on rationing before. I mean, it’s a pretty diverse kind of range of things all in some ways connected.

Jason Bradford

And he knows all about agriculture and stuff too.

Asher Miller

So shout out to you, Stan.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Stan the man.

Rob Dietz

Okay. So here’s a couple of his stats that I’ve got here in front of me. In the U.S. in 2010 we used as much electricity for air conditioning as we used for all purposes in 1955. You know, just think about that. You know, basically 50 years later, AC is the equivalent of everything you had.

Asher Miller

Talk about the great acceleration.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Here’s another one. From the year 1993 to 2005, electricity for air conditioning in the U.S. doubled. Yeah, I mean, that is a very short time span. And one reason is, air conditioning is becoming more prevalent over that time. But also think about what happened in housing. Like all these McMansions get built so you have now a 3000 square foot house that you’re keeping cool all summer.

Asher Miller

Yeah, I think the International Energy Agency’s calculated that air conditioning and electric fans count for about 10% of global energy use.

Rob Dietz

Electricity use.

Asher Miller

Sorry, electricity use. Yeah. Thanks for clarifying. What’s crazy, if you think about that, we talked about how many homes in the United States have air conditioning, right? It’s 90% or so. But we disproportionately have a lot more AC use than the rest of world so –

Rob Dietz

Oh, wait, wait, wait. So you’re telling me the United States, on average, is consuming more than some other countries?

Asher Miller

Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Talking about bucking the trend and setting a new path.

Asher Miller

It’s just on AC. The rest is fine. No, but my point is 10% of electricity use is going to AC and electric fans when a lot of the world hasn’t even begun to adopt this technology. Yikes.

Rob Dietz

Alright, give me the bad news on climate that I know is coming.

Asher Miller

Well think about US greenhouse gas emissions,. Just from AC it’s about 500 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year. Just to put that in context that’s more than the construction industry.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, right. So again, you know, this is the maddening, positive, or we might want to say amplifying feedback loop that is driving us into Crazy Town. You’ve got electricity for running more ACs, more greenhouse gas emissions, more warming of the climate, and then more desire to install and use AC. And I remember, Stan Cox’s book has this picture of these window mounted ACs in this dense urban area. And of course, they’re cooling the inside space, but they’re pumping into this narrow alley. And so they’re heating this outside space. And of course, the way ACs work is they have to suck in air. So they have to work harder and harder just to stay in place and keep that cool.

Rob Dietz

The upside though, you can bake cookies in that alleyway.

Asher Miller

Yeah. So you know, you’re saving electricity use or energy use on your oven.

Jason Bradford

But then you walk outside and it’s way hotter than it would have been if nobody had turned on their AC in the first place. So it’s not just the global amplification, it’s the local amplification that happens.

Asher Miller

But I think talking about the global, you could see how this is such an amplifying feedback loop. As the planet gets warmer and temperatures get more extreme, places in the world that have never had to use AC are now clamoring.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, let’s just right now throw down the notion that everything that we talk about with air conditioning is poised to get worse with what’s happening with climate change. I just did put a nice little negative pall over this discussion.

Asher Miller

Yeah, if we’re gonna go full on morbid, let’s just point out too, that these heat waves, you know, that are exacerbated by climate change, they cause more deaths than many other natural disasters combined lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes in the US. And there are more deaths just from heat waves than all of those combined. And think about, you know, here we’ve got huge penetration of air conditioning , but look at other parts of the world. And I think a lot of our listeners probably are familiar with how there was a heatwave in 2003 in Europe. I almost tend to think of those days as like the, quote, “days of early climate change,” which is kind of crazy. But you know, 70,000 people in Europe died from a heatwave that summer. No air conditioning, probably. Or hardly any to be seen because they never had to deal with it before.

Rob Dietz

Yeah well, you know, now there’s a weird thing happening like in Europe, or farther north in the U.S. with mild climates actually can have worse health problems than then the hotter climates because you do have air conditioning penetration into the hotter climates. So if it’s hot, people just go indoors and cool themselves. But these places where there is no AC, they’re just essentially cooking in their apartment.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And we’ve seen that here in the Pacific Northwest, right? I mean, we’ve had some crazy heat incidences in the last couple of years and look at places like Seattle. I think Seattle is the least air conditioned city in the U.S. with about 34% of homes having AC and you compare that to place like New Orleans, which is 99%.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. You bring up the Northwest – I mean, was a heat dome something you had ever heard of? I certainly had not till we had one overtop our heads here where we were getting close to 120 degree heat and then having it be prolonged. Yeah. And our house didn’t have air conditioning. And we were close to having a house that was triple digits hot.

Jason Bradford

Wow. And the problem is you can’t cool off at night is the big problem, right? You just never cool off. Your body never gets to relax.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And of course, you know, we’re in better shape than some people who are living out on the street and  a lot of people suffered and died in the Pacific Northwest during the heat dome. So it’s

Asher Miller

Which I just have to pause and say, you know, thinking about the relationship between air conditioning, let’s say and global and local inequality issues, is really profound. As we were just talking about how the enormous penetration of air conditioning here in the United States is not true for all the world. There are places in the world that have really high temperatures. They also have high humidity and they don’t have a lot of penetration air conditioning and their temperatures are getting more and more extreme because of climate changes, which are being exacerbated by the use of air conditioning and other things. And so we’re like in this kind of ridiculous pickle. If you look at a country like India, for example, where people try to forecast the penetration of air conditioning in in the world for the next coming decades. India is like an enormous potential market, right?

Jason Bradford

Right. Because you’ve got rising incomes and rising population.

Asher Miller

Yeah. An enormous population of a billion people.

Asher Miller

Alright. A projection of economic growth, creating more income for people to be able to afford getting air conditioning. A very warm climate to begin with, right? And then you’re gonna have climate change on top of that exacerbating the situation. And here we are saying, well, actually, this thing is contributing to it, you know. But what do you do with a situation like that? It’s really hard to say to somebody, “Hey, the planet is getting warmer.” It’s like getting to a point where you might in your community have had. . . You know, practices have been in place for a very long time with people being able to withstand certain types of heat, you know, or humidity. But now we’ve taken a situation to a level that is, basically those things don’t operate anymore. They don’t work. So what? We’re gonna tell those people you can’t have air conditioning. You know, we got ours, you can’t have yours.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Over a billion people.

Rob Dietz

Not that we have any control anyway, right.

Asher Miller

No, it’s true.

Rob Dietz

But we’ve got companies that are, of course, willing to sell air conditioners all over.

Asher Miller

But I think part of what we’re saying here is this is not a solution. I mean, going out and let’s install air conditioning everywhere.

Jason Bradford

And you know, we’re wealthy here in the U.S., relatively speaking. And we’ve got huge uptake of air conditioning. So you think that our population is quote, unquote, safe from the worst effects of climate heating you. You see the government reports claiming, like, we’re gonna be okay. Our population won’t die off because we’ll just put more air conditioning units in. But in the end, in the long run, I look at what this means for society. And just the infrastructure requirements, the added demand on the electric grid, the fact that the roads start buckling, hydroelectric and power plants start to become hard to do because you’ve got water problems and overheating of those. And  you just think, yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily count on just because you’ve got money and you’ve got a unit installed that you’re gonna be able to run it when it really counts.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, the heat dome in Portland, they actually set up some centers that were air conditioned, said, “Okay people, jump on the max, which is our above ground subway line, and get to this cooling center.” But the max actually had to shut down because they the temperatures were so high. The thing wasn’t engineered to operate, when it’s 120 degrees.

Asher Miller

Yeah It’s actually really weird to think about that because this is like a return to what we’re describing as almost the early days of air conditioning. Where air conditioning was at the movie theater, at the, you know, shopping mall, or whatever. People didn’t have it in their homes. And we might be going back to a situation where it’s like, okay, we’ve got this incredible heat wave that’s happening in this community. And everyone, maybe because what you’re talking about, Jason, is we can’t meet the demands, the electricity for all that stuff.

Jason Bradford

Right. The brown outs or whatever.

Asher Miller

So we’re gonna have it in the certain places everyone needs to go to. Of course, my morbid mind goes to this really traumatic and dramatic story that Kim Stanley Robinson opens his book with, which I won’t share – “The Ministry for the Future.”

Jason Bradford

The wet bulb temperature problem.

Rob Dietz

Well, you know, I like to think about going back to the history a little bit in this uptake of air conditioning and the effects you mentioned earlier, Asher. That this was one of the most influential things on the American city. That researcher put it in the top 10. Well, I did a little bit of digging on this and I want you to guess- You guys, back to my game show. Okay, guess which three states in the U.S. had the fastest growing population?

Jason Bradford

Is that percentage or the total.

Rob Dietz

I don’t know. Probably both.

Jason Bradford

Okay. I’m gonna go with  Florida, Texas, and Arizona.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, okay. That’s good.

Jason Bradford

There was another one I was curious about. I probably should have swapped out. Oh gosh darn it.

Rob Dietz

Well, you still can. Asher’s still thinking over.

Asher Miller

Yeah, I mean, this is Crazy Town, right? So it’s gonna be the opposite of what would be rational so I’m gonna go also with Arizona, Texas, maybe California?

Rob Dietz

What are you Jason?

Jason Bradford

I already gave three but California was my other answer but I didn’t know what to swap out with.

Rob Dietz

Doesn’t matter. You guys have the –

Asher Miller

We had two of the three?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, together you got two of three. Florida and Arizona are in there, and Nevada is the other.

Asher Miller

Vegas baby.

Rob Dietz

Think about Nevada. It used to probably be basically unpopulated.

Jason Bradford

So this is about percentage and not total. That’s why clarifying question was important.

Rob Dietz

Okay. Yeah, okay.

Asher Miller

It makes sense. Let’s all move to places that are going to have an expiration date on them. You know, Florida, partly because sea level rise but you know, Arizona and Nevada . .

Rob Dietz

Well, yeah, I mean think about the way you live if you’ve experienced these places. You’re not living indoors in Arizona and the kinds of houses that are there [without AC].

Asher Miller

Why even fucking go there? I’m sorry to our Arizona listeners.

Rob Dietz

The Grand Canyon is awesome.

Jason Bradford

They have great golf courses. Spring training.

Rob Dietz

I actually have a little story to share when I was probably early high school we went to visit my aunt and her family. They live in Sebring, Florida, which is south of Orlando.

Asher Miller

Could you see Mar-a-Lago from her house?

Rob Dietz

Probably yeah. My cousin was actually a really good tennis player. You’re going to be excited, Jason.

Jason Bradford

Oh, please. I like this story.

Rob Dietz

When she was coming up she was actually number two ranked in Florida behind Chris Evert.

Jason Bradford

Wow.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, she was really good. And this is much later in life. She’s hitting with me on a tennis court on a June Sebring, Florida day. And I am dying. I’m literally like, I feel like I’m baking. And I was in pretty good shape. I thought I was a good tennis player. I lasted probably about 20 minutes and then had to jump back into the AC. And I’ve thought about this –

Asher Miller

Why didn’t they have AC on the tennis court?

Rob Dietz

They should’ve.

Jason Bradford

Someday. We can always dream.

Rob Dietz

But I go back to that. And I think, oh, my aunt is one of these migrants to the Sunbelt. Her family, they came from Ohio. And even my parents did that. They moved to Georgia from more northern spots and this is what we’ve had with AC making indoors bearable in these places. We’ve had this mass migration from north to south. I actually remember on that trip, my aunt, I was talking to her and she said, “You know what? I go from my air conditioned house to my air conditioned car, to the air conditioned office, back to the air conditioned house.” It was all just a train of air conditioned spaces. And I remember thinking even as a kid going, why do you live here again? What is happening? Yeah, so let me tell you guys about the Sunbelt getting filled up.

Rob Dietz

Okay, this is gonna be terrible.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. This is some numbers. Just in the span of 10 years at one point in its history, Tucson went from having 45,000 people to 210,000.

Asher Miller

What? 10 years?

Jason Bradford

Wow.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, here’s another good one. In 1900, Phoenix, Arizona, it had 5,544 people. Today, it has 1.7 million. Or, if you want to count the whole metro area, 4.6 million people. And the July temperature average high  is 106 Fahrenheit, 41 Celsius.

Jason Bradford

Ouchie-poo.

Rob Dietz

The low is 82.

Jason Bradford

See, that’s the problem. You can’t sleep.

Rob Dietz

It doesn’t cool off.

Asher Miller

You need the AC. And that’s a dry heat.

Rob Dietz

I mean, you know, there would be a way to get cool at 82. Again, with a wet blanket. So you just got to hang out with Asher.

Asher Miller

I’ll just talk in your ear and that’ll cool you off.

Rob Dietz

But you know, it’s striking to me. This invention has allowed us to spread all over these hot ecosystems. And it’s true outside the U.S. too. Think of our poster child for Crazy Town, which is Dubai. It actually, I looked up its temperature. It’s almost exact mirror of Phoenix. Same high and low in summertime.

Jason Bradford

And they might have more humidity.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I guess being on the ocean.

Asher Miller

You know, humans have been able to go to these extreme climates and figure out a way to survive and live there. People were in the deserts in Dubai or near there for millennia. It’s just the difference here is we’re talking about the amount of people and how they’re living. So there were people in the South West living in these dry climates.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. There were 5000 in Phoenix in 1800.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Well,  all the cave space got filled up.

Asher Miller

You know, what’s really great to think about is all the resources that have gone into moving people from the north to the south. And they’re just gonna have to be reversed. We’re gonna have a reverse migration. Everyone’s going to be moving to Duluth and wherever, you know, in the Great Lakes area.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yep. Settling in Alaska.

Asher Miller

Yeah, moving to Canada. Such a great use of resources,

Jason Bradford

But there’s a lot of political ramifications of course, because these sort of fairly well off retirees who are older, and therefore tend to be a little more conservative and set in their ways, go to these places, and then become these huge voting blocks. They kind of then lock in the policies of development.

Rob Dietz

So you got another feedback loop going here.

Jason Bradford

Right. They like it like this.

Asher Miller

Right. And they expect it to be that way. I mean, and that sort of thing I think is worth talking about, which is that we have locked in an expectation of air conditioning into into our infrastructure everywhere, right? I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t been in the business of shopping for a new home recently, but the expectation I’m sure is that air conditioning is there. And you look at commercial buildings. Well, yeah, of course you have to have air conditioning because they’re fucking glass buildings, you know?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, a lot of these big skyscrapers. Greenhouses.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s a greenhouse stacked on its end, right? 175 degrees in there.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, there’s no windows that open.

Asher Miller

Exactly.

Jason Bradford

It’s just ridiculous.

Rob Dietz

Oh, my gosh. You guys know, in our first season, we had an energy literacy episode? And we each had this homework assignment to pick an inexplicably stupid use of energy.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, yeah, I remember this.

Rob Dietz

So remind us of yours, Asher?

Asher Miller

Oh, did I pick a new thing that you could like order online your stuff from Walmart or whatever, and you could just drive up and you could drive away? Actually it wasn’t Walmart. It was actually driving into a grocery store.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, you had some kind of store that you would drive your car inside of.

Asher Miller

You could go right inside it with your car. So you don’t have to get out of it. It’s like a safari but for groceries.

Rob Dietz

I think mine was the best. I brought up Ski Dubai which is like this big glass globe with a snow hill inside the desert.

Jason Bradford

I admit yours is the best. Mine was pretty good. That was the, you know all the mini storage stuff where people put there all their extra consumable crap. Yeah, well, they have climate controlled storage. So you’re paying this extra money to keep the stuff you never see at the right temperature.

Asher Miller

The stuff that’s not important enough for you to actually have in your home.

Rob Dietz

So I really liked that little exercise we did. But I think Stan Cox, again has beaten us a little bit. In his air conditioning book he’s got some outlandish examples of the use of air conditioning. We go back to Florida here. He talks about residents of Naples, Florida who spend the summers in their summer homes up north in New York or whatever. They often keep the air conditioning running all summer long in their vacant winter home to protect their possessions from the humidity.

Jason Bradford

Probably you’d come back and your house is moldy or something like that, right?

Asher Miller

Are you kidding?

Rob Dietz

Well, okay, Asher. Here’s the next one that’s on the list.

Asher Miller

Yeah. So it’s one thing you want to keep your stuff in your house nice and cool when you’re not there. Some people do this for their cars, right? So they’re these like high end car condos, you know, where people can spend $60,000 to $400,000 to put their cars in climate control rooms to protect them from the natural environment.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that’s like your climate controlled storage on steroids.

Jason Bradford

Yeah exactly. Or keeping your house air conditioned while you’re not there.

Rob Dietz

Well okay, taking it up a notch in the ridiculousness that Stan talks about. In 2008 the world’s first air conditioned beach at the new Palazzo Versace hotel in of course, Dubai opened up.

Asher Miller

An air conditioned beach?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. No, don’t get in the water to stay on the beach. You wouldn’t have to make that long arduous trek to the water.

Jason Bradford

I bet you it is so hot even on the beach there and the water is so – This is the Gulf. I mean I get it. I understand.

Asher Miller

I mean you want to get your tan so I mean what else are you gonna do?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, right. Well I have so many questions like how wide of an area is this? There’s like you know 1000’s of people huddled in one spot or basically shut them in a refrigerator, or what?

Jason Bradford

Now Singapore is a city state in the middle of – right on the equator practically. You’ve been there, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. It’s quite a place.

Jason Bradford

And they’re trying to be kind of greenish with these sorts of, they have a lot of trees and stuff in the city. So they’re trying to be –

Rob Dietz

They’ve got a lot of banks too. Skyscraper banks.

Jason Bradford

So in order to keep cool there, you can go to a popular bar called the Esky bar that is kept in the narrow range of 30 to 31 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rob Dietz

So it’s just below zero.

Asher Miller

You’re gonna get your winter coat and all that. Get your gloves and gear up to go in there.

Rob Dietz

Yeah.  Can we just take a moment of lamentation here where I think that list might be the list that most portends human extinction of anything we’ve ever talked about.

Jason Bradford

This is a pretty tough episode for me to get through. Because it’s just so crazy. And all this stuff where people just go from one conditioned space to another. And a lot of urban and suburban environments too would then of course require super conditioning. Because we talked about the fact that, you know, heat island effect. And if your neighbor is conditioning there, it makes it hot outside. And so when you go outside, you’re uncomfortable and the envelope around your home is even hotter. So you got it. It’s just crazy feedback loop. And of course, there’s no sense of what the real environment is outside.

Asher Miller

Yeah. I mean the environment outside is –

Jason Bradford

It’s all messed up.

Asher Miller

It’s not your friend.

Jason Bradford

No, it’s all messed up.

Asher Miller

All you want to do is keep it at bay.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And so, people are living in these phony human created . . .

Asher Miller

And there’s no culture. There’s no difference. There’s no novelty. I mean, when we were talking about sort of the highway system and how that sort of fed also this kind of like cookie cutter thing where the environment becomes so homogenized, you know? And air conditioning is kind of a part of that.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I think you’re right. They worked hand in hand to do that. And you just use brute force, electricity and engineering to overcome nature and just pretend like you’re not part of it. I think there’s also some we did to ourselves, which is, humans are remarkably adaptable. But now we’ve set ourselves up to have this just minute capacity to tolerate really narrow temperature range. I know, Asher,  we were talking and you said, you like to keep your house between 68.4 and 68.7 degrees. Yeah, I mean, if it gets to 68.8.

Asher Miller

Well, they’ve got an app that’s constantly checking and calibrating. They test it I think every 20-25 nanoseconds. It just, you know, tries to dial it in?

Jason Bradford

No, that’s a big thing is acclimation is what it’s called biologically. it’s  where you over time, your physiology adjusts to environmental conditions.

Asher Miller

Right. So basically, none of us can handle being outside.

Rob Dietz

Now, it’s just adiabatic acclimation.

Jason Bradford

I remember being in St. Louis, Missouri, and I would be in these controlled environments. And then you’d walk out and you just get hit by the heat, and you’re just suffering. And then you get to your car and of course, your car is just this oven. So you turn it on, and you’re cranking the AC. You’re like, “Come on, come on.” And your pores are just visible to the naked eye. They’re just gaping, and just, your sweat is spurting out of you. And then finally, it’s like, “Oh well.” And then you get into the next conditioned space. And now you’re covered in sweat, right? And then you start shivering.

Asher Miller

The good thing is, now you can set your AC. You can turn your AC on in your car before you get there.

Jason Bradford

Oh yeah. This is back in the 90s.

Asher Miller

Now you don’t have to deal with this. The interesting thing about this though, because I think you’re right about this becoming acclimated in sense. So as a young kid, you know, growing up in Israel, I was used to like, we had 120 degree days and no air conditioning at all. Totally survived through that. I lived in California for many, many years, you know. and then I moved up here to Oregon. When I go back to California now, I can’t handle it. I really can’t. Like I’m completely adjusted. So yeah. And I don’t have air conditioning. So if somebody is spending their life in air conditioning, going from air conditioning to heat, and they’re keeping the temperature the same all year round, oh man.

Rob Dietz

All right, let’s get past this. Let’s talk about what we can do. How can we handle this?

Rob Dietz

Okay, listeners, you have heard a lot from us. And if we haven’t scared you away yet, you’ve got a chance to get a little more interactive with us. We’re going to be staging one of our favorite events of the year. The Crazy Town Hall.

Jason Bradford

Is this like staging the moon landing?

Jason Bradford

Kinda.

Jason Bradford

Okay, great. Well, the Crazy Town Hall is an interactive event that will take place on July 12, 2022 at 10am US Pacific Time. And you get to be in an online conference with the three of us and you can ask us questions. We’re gonna play fun games. We’re going to get some insider dirt on the podcast. And when maybe we’ll laugh

Asher Miller

Twister right. We’re gonna do Twister.

Jason Bradford

Okay. That’d be great.

Asher Miller

Yeah, so the Crazy Town Hall. Oh, it’s for real Crazy Townies, right? People who want to support the podcast. So if you’d like an invitation to the  Town Hall, we’re asking that you make a recurring monthly donation. It can be of any amount to the Post Carbon Institute. If you’re already a donor, we thank you so much for your support. You’re gonna automatically get an invite. And keep in mind, your donations help us with things like buying enough duct tape to repair our microphones.

Jason Bradford

That’s important.

Rob Dietz

It is. But hell, if we get enough donations, maybe we can hire some decent hosts.

Jason Bradford

Oh my gosh. I would love that.

Asher Miller

You would love it? Our listeners would love it.

Rob Dietz

Seriously, please join us at the Crazy Town Hall on July 12, 2022. To sign up, go to postcarbon.org/crazytown, that’s postcarbon.org/crazytown. Hope to see you there.

George  Costanza

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Jason Bradford

Alright. Well, we just kind of were railing on the fact that we keep in these narrow temperature ranges and one of the do the opposites could be just allowing your environment to fluctuate more. Not necessarily always trying to set it and forget it. Let the temperature get warm, let the temperature get cold. And you can also then when you need to adjust and help out, it more becomes a personal clothing choice, right? Like the Jimmy Carter sweater. Or when it’s hot out, right? I don’t know, just waste wet towels. I remember I had a water bottle when I was a kid that I could mist. So I would carry it around and I would just sort of like spray it and walk through it. And you know, these things work.

Jason Bradford

There we go.

Asher Miller

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s great. But look, I think we need to challenge our listeners. We talked about how we’ve gotten sort of unable to withstand change of temperature or whatever.. So I think you should wear the Jimmy Carter sweater in the summer. In the hottest time of year.

Rob Dietz

So one time, me and my friend John, we were like 20 years old. And we were going over to another friend’s house to go swimming. This guy had access to a pool. And we thought summertime would be awesome. Let’s just go over and turn the heat on in the car. So it’s already 100 degrees outside. We blast the heat all the way over. And we’re just sweating, kind of like your previous description of sweating, Jason. And we get out and get into this pool immediately. And it’s so refreshing

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And that’s, there’s actually something to that, because part of the pleasure in like experiencing temperatures is the change.

Jason Bradford

The contrast.

Jason Bradford

Right. The release. The contrast.

Rob Dietz

So yeah, you just think of like how good a cool breeze feels on a summer day. Or like warming your hands by a campfire in the cold. So like just sort of letting yourself experience that and actually appreciating it. We’re not saying, you know, let your house range from 0 to 212, you know, from freezing to boiling, but just maybe a range. God, there’s also being smarter when you are using climate control to just being smarter about it.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I mean, managing when you open doors and windows to let air flow through. Or when you put up on awnings or shades. So there’s a lot that can be done if you are conscientious about it as opposed to just flipping on a switch, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah, well, and there’s also the idea that’s coming on, maybe more now. It’s heating and cooling the body instead of these huge spaces.

Asher Miller

Full body ice suits?

Rob Dietz

I’m sure you can invest in that, or at least an NFT version of that. But no, this was on a “99% Invisible” podcast episode. They were talking to this woman who has a climate controlled chair in her office. So it would both heat and cool, which seems like sort of a goofy tech gadget, but compared to heating and cooling the whole office, that makes a lot of sense. You’re using a lot less energy to do that.

Asher Miller

Yeah. It’s kind of like the difference between moving your body and moving your car.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. So I mean, those are good personal sort of do the opposites. But I want to go up a level and scale and start talking about what we do with the the architecture and the landscaping around us. And when I was thinking about this, it took me back to when I used to live in New Mexico. And one of the things that I really loved there was the the housing stock still had a lot of places that were made out of adobe and stucco. And they were like these big, bulky exterior thing-

Rob Dietz

Thermal mass.

Rob Dietz

Yes, exactly. Thermal mass. They’d have small windows, and they would soak up the heat during the day, but then release it at night when it was cool. And so they had this just right design for the right place. And they call that vernacular architecture. It’s basically when people inhabit a place long enough, they get smart about how to build it out in a way that works with the climate and with the ecosystem.

Jason Bradford

Which is the opposite of what we’ve done for all these neighborhoods where you just have cookie cutter designs. And I grew up in a neighborhood with a particular home style with big glass windows. And my home happened to have the glass on the south side, which was good.

Rob Dietz

As you do.

Jason Bradford

As you should. But my friend lived on the opposite side of the block. So his windows were on the north side. And it was like, there’s just no attention, apparently. And so we have to pay attention to the place.

Asher Miller

They probably just rotated the houses, right? It’s the same sort of like –

Jason Bradford

Same design.

Asher Miller

Same design. They just turned a little bit. So they’re like, “Hey, let’s get a little bit of diversity in the design of this little community.” But no we got to we got to build cookie cutter houses so all we’re going to do is just going to rotate it like 45 degrees, or whatever it is.

Jason Bradford

Well, the backyard had the big windows. That’s the way it was set up. Every backyard was supposed to face your backyard. Privacy on the front.

Asher Miller

Got it.

Jason Bradford

And so their backyard was on the north side of the lot. So it made no sense.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. It’s, you know, in some ways you think of it like, we should go back to just paying a little more attention. Like you say, put the energy upfront rather than that brute force engineering.

Asher Miller

Well, if we’d had this knowledge. . . I mean, you’re talking about in New Mexico, Rob. But look, humans have been quite ingenious in learning how to live in in places with extreme temperatures. And the way they’ve done that before we could just consume a bunch of fossil energy to keep us cool or warm, was figuring out how to live creatively with the spaces that they’re in.

Jason Bradford

I think finding a cave is what we need to do. If you have the option, just find a cave. Yeah. Or a mineshaft?

Asher Miller

I’m sure there are enough caves for 7.8 billion of us. No problem. But speaking that actually, I do think that – and we talked about this a little bit earlier how air conditioning allowed people to move like here in the United States and move from the north to the south to areas that were much warmer. I think we are going to be seeing, because of climate changes, a shift in the opposite direction. And we have to have a real frank conversation, at least with ourselves about where are the right places to be, you know.

Asher Miller

Is Naples, Florida really the place?

Rob Dietz

Only if you’re in the climate controlled car condo. And now it reminds me of the flood maps that the Federal Emergency Management Agency puts out and how that’s totally changed housing in the United States. When you go to buy a house has to be certified as not being in the floodplain. And I don’t know, it’s almost like we’re going to need to have that need to be certified not being in the heat zone.

Asher Miller

Well, look, we have that for fires, right? I mean, I think that you’re starting to see especially like with insurance stuff, people seeing those risks. I don’t know if anyone’s internalized risks of like, temperatures and heat. And probably because they’re all assuming we’ll all just have air conditioning,

Jason Bradford

They are. I actually went to a climate change conference in California, and the team at UC Berkeley, The Economist team there was trying to project you know, for the state, the governor, and how we were going to mitigate and adapt, etc, etc. And essentially, all the housing stock in California was gonna get built out in the Central Valley because they’ve already built out along the coast and in the more temperate areas.

Asher Miller

So where much of the country’s food is grown?

Asher Miller

Correct.

Rob Dietz

And where it’s really hot?

Jason Bradford

Correct. It is gonna get hotter there than any other part of the state. But that’s where they’re gonna go, because that’s where land is cheap and abundant. And that’s where the additional 50 million people who are going to be in the state by the end of the century are going to have to live. And in order for them to survive air conditioning had to be put in at a massive scale.

Rob Dietz

It’s good thing they didn’t project another 20 years out because it would just be in the Mojave Desert. Then pretty soon in Death Valley.

Jason Bradford

This fuse with the Vegas is what’s going to happen basically. Yeah, so don’t be like an economist, basically.

Asher Miller

Is that the doing the opposite?

Rob Dietz

Yes. That’s our best do the opposite ever. Don’t be an economist.

Jason Bradford

They’re just so bad. They are so bad.

Melody Travers

Thanks for listening. We just gave you a whole bunch of do the opposite ideas so you can take action in your life and community. If that’s too much at this time in your life, do something real simple. Give us a five star rating on Spotify or any other podcast app, and hit the share button to let your friends know about Crazy Town.

Jason Bradford

Hey, guys, I’m really proud of today’s sponsor, which really does tie in well to our theme of do the opposite in this air conditioning episode, in a sense. I mean, you’re gonna think this is ironic, of course. But this is about acclimation. This is about adaptation to the extremes and getting your body in shape for what may be coming. Whether it’s extreme cold, extreme heat . . . It’s called frozen yoga.

Asher Miller

Wait yoga? Like yogurt? Frozen yoga?

Asher Miller

Frozen yoga.

Asher Miller

I’ve heard of hot yoga, what the hell is frozen yoga?

Jason Bradford

Well, think about it. It’s a classic do the opposite. It’s really easy to stretch out your muscles when it’s hot in the room, right. But if you want to challenge, if you want to acclimate to extreme conditions –

Asher Miller

Trying to stretch. Do downward dog when –

Jason Bradford

Oh your muscles are just tight.

Rob Dietz

It’s actually done on an ice skating rink. You’re lying on the rink trying to –

Jason Bradford

Oh there’s incredible balance issues.

Rob Dietz

Paramedics are on hand to get you over the hospital when your hamstring just –

Asher Miller

I can’t think of a better use of air conditioning than this.

Jason Bradford

It’s like that Singapore bar, sort of, that we mentioned the show.

Rob Dietz

Oh wow. Yeah, they could pour your drinks while you’re doing downward dog.

Asher Miller

But I get your point. If we’re gonna have to get acclimated to extreme weather, right, we’re not going to have air conditioning or heating to constantly rely on to keep a constant temperature. Get yourself acclimated to these extremes.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And there’s one in town. A great frozen yoga place in Corvallis. And the hot yoga place is right next door. So back and forth.

Asher Miller

It’s like when you jump in the pool and then you go into hot tub. So back and forth.

Jason Bradford

Correct. So yeah, grab frozen yoga, guys. The newest greatest health trend. Get on it.

Teaser photo credit: pmorgan/Flickr (under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license)