Time columnist Joe Klein’s article in the magazine this week is titled "Kill Your Air Conditioner." Klein detests the quality of air-conditioned air, and thinks everyone in America ought to live to his tastes: "The unnecessary refrigeration of America has become a chronic disease." Air-conditioning is "bad for the planet," he writes, but "Unfortunately, it is not as bad as I’d like it to be." He sides with Jimmy Carter and the "dreadful cardigan sweater" over the Bush-Cheney policy of "malignant neglect." Klein says we should break out the thermostat police as a presidential campaign issue. "I'd like to see both candidates call for an immediate 5deg.F thermostat adjustment, just to get the conservation ball rolling."
No one should ever suggest that liberals always believe "If it feels good, do it," at least when it comes to consumer comforts. How does Klein foresee checking up on every American’s thermostat adjustment? Or would the nanny state begin by cracking down on hotels and commercial buildings? Klein began his lecture by lamenting how an innkeeper had to keep the AC on for a 75-degree day:
The unnecessary refrigeration of America has become a chronic disease. It seems to have gotten worse over the past few years, with thermostats routinely set at 68deg.F, and sometimes even 65 deg., in the (far too many) hotel rooms I've suffered on the campaign trail. "Americans seem to keep their houses cooler in summer than they do in the winter," muses Edward Parson, an environmental expert at the University of Michigan Law School. But it's hard to know for sure, since there are no comprehensive studies that measure air-conditioning trend lines.
I will confess a bias here. I love warm weather, even when it slouches toward humidity. I detest the harsh, slightly metallic quality of the air forced through even the fanciest AC systems. The only air conditioner I own sits, unused, in my car; my home is happily unrefrigerated. But given the energy mess we're in, I can now gild my personal preference with a patina of high-mindedness: air-conditioning is bad for the planet, and for national security, and for our balance-of-payments deficit.
Unfortunately, it is not as bad as I'd like it to be — in part because not all of our electricity is provided by fossil fuels (although coal does predominate). And also because air-conditioning represents a relatively small slice of our energy use, an estimated 4%.
At this point, as Klein wishes the crisis were greater, we should note the opposite of air-conditioning can be heat-wave deaths. Here, Klein could have a feisty debate with other liberals, like Eric Klinenberg on Slate, who suggests "heat waves kill more people in the United States than all of the other so-called natural disasters combined."
Klein wants to ban AC to save the planet, but other "save the planet" leftists see 52,000 European heat-wave deaths and lament what craven consumerism has already done for "climate change."
Naturally, Klein followed up with the usual liberal exhortation that we should all conserve, but George W. Bush didn't have the courage after 9/11 to demand sacrifice from the people:
There is a certain reluctance among politicians to proselytize about energy conservation. It's not as sexy as promoting high-tech gizmos like photovoltaic arrays or electric cars. It reminds people — of a certain age — of Jimmy Carter, in his dreadful cardigan sweater, telling them to set their thermostats at 68deg.F in winter to conserve oil. Carter was certainly right about that one — heating represents nearly twice (roughly 7%) the energy usage that air-conditioning does. By contrast, the Bush Administration has had a policy of malignant neglect, enunciated by Dick Cheney, who once called conservation a "sign of personal virtue" but not a national goal. "After Carter, sacrifice became a hot-button word," Schipper says. "But there's a reasonable position between sacrifice and just being foolish."
Actually, George W. Bush's failure to call for sacrifice — and fuel conservation would have been a great one — after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been one of the great failures of his presidency. The next President will not have the luxury of that sort of indolence, and, happily, both Barack Obama and John McCain have been talking about conservation as a means to get our energy situation under control. So why not start now? I'd like to see both candidates call for an immediate 5deg.F thermostat adjustment, just to get the conservation ball rolling — and because it would be a "personal virtue" for each candidate to ask it of us. And I'd like to wish you all a nice, warmer summer.
The column's subhead in the magazine was "Solving the energy crisis requires sacrifice. For the good of the country, we should be sweating." (In the cheeky photo-illustration, Klein is waving a fan decorated like the American flag.) But didn't Klein write that it wasn't enough of a crisis? It's here where you ponder about how media crisis-hype has a political end -- to induce the voter to accept greater government mandates.