Skenazy: Baby, it’s hot outside (and inside)

 If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the living room.

Keep going till you are out of the house completely. Yes, now that it’s finally hot after that freeze-your-snowballs-off winter, we are remembering how it feels to be a Hershey bar in a pizza oven. Melty. It’s a relief to get home and crank up the AC, but … I wish we’d hold off (and not just because I’m the one who’s always wearing a sweater and complaining about how cold it is in the office).

Lenore Skenazy Free-Range Kids

Lenore Skenazy
Free-Range Kids

Sure, life can be pretty fondue-ish without air conditioning. For the sick and the elderly, it may even be dangerous. But one-sixth of the electricity we use in America — more than all the electricity used in India — goes to air conditioning. Generating that power can’t be great for the environment, and what’s more, it’s not even good for social capital.

We may love our AC, but it doesn’t love us. It has made our lives comfier but also lonelier and chubbier.

The loneliness factor is obvious; just look at how we spend our season (not) in the sun. Before the advent of air conditioning, summer was one big block party, with neighbors gossiping, hydrants spewing and lots of shrieking — the good kind. Now those same revelers stay inside Googling “fun” and wondering why they never have any.

Then they snack.

Which is better for everyone involved, dipping a chip into guac or dipping a toe into ice-cold hydrant water? And which one is going to give you a bigger gut? Maybe one reason we’re all blimping up is that the AC keeps us lying around the house instead of heading out to toss a Frisbee.

We used to spend summers outside. Now that seems too hot compared with the climate-controlled stores beckoning us in. So instead of playing, we end up paying. We’d have been better off just hanging out on the porch.

Except the porch is gone! Another victim of AC! Who needs shade anymore? Once builders started to depend on automated climate control, they stopped designing homes that cool off naturally — and cheaply. Commercial developers stopped, too. Out went the blueprints for buildings shaped like a T, H or L to promote cross ventilation. Stark towers sprang up, their windows sealed shut. These behemoths trap so much heat that parts of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower have to be air-conditioned even when outside it is 0 degrees.

Now, some sweltering weeks, AC sounds pretty good. Zero degrees sounds pretty good! But there are ways we can feel cool without wasting as much energy or money. Don’t leave the AC on when you’re not at home. (Duh.) Use fans when you can stand it a little warmer. And then: Get out there! To the park or pool or sizzling stretch of sand. This is June, not January — the season we were looking forward to for six solid months.

We’re supposed to be hot.

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids.”

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