August 21, 2008

Air-conditioning: Our Cross to Bear

When it's hot and humid out and the air-conditioner's not running, America suffers. Babies break out in rashes, couples bicker, computers go haywire. In much of the nation, an August power outage is viewed not as an inconvenience but as a public health emergency.

In the 50 years since air-conditioning hit the mass market, America has become so well-addicted that our dependence goes almost entirely unremarked. A/C is built into our economy and our culture. Stepping from a torrid parking lot into a 72-degree, air-conditioned lobby can provide a degree of instantaneous relief and physical pleasure experienced through few other legal means. But if the effect of air-conditioning on a hot human being can be compared to that of a pain-relieving drug, its economic impact is more like that of an anabolic steroid. And withdrawal, when it comes, will be painful.

We're as committed to air-conditioning as we are to cars and computer chips. And a device lucky enough to become indispensable can demand and get whatever it needs to keep running. For the air-conditioner, that's a lot.


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