The High Cost of the Easy Thing

Central air conditioner unit, from left side
Image via Wikipedia

Everywhere I turn these days I see it: a perfect storm created by the clash of population demands, heavy footprints, and overtaxed resources.

We are coming up against a show-down between rights and freedoms of any given person–you, me–pitted against the rights, freedoms and continued well-being of society. And with the sheer numbers of us choosing what is most convenient, comfortable or pleasurable for ourselves regardless of ultimate costs, those choices are having an increasingly damaging impact on the stock of natural resources and resiliency of natural services that have, until now, abundantly provided those needs.

Dope Slap!! Selling the foundation to pay the mortgage is not a practice that can go on for long. At some point, when one too many wall studs is removed from the basement, the house collapses on our heads. In our tunnel vision, personal rights fill the view, while personal responsibility falls outside it, in a pernicious philosophical and ethical blind-spot.

The thing that makes so difficult this shift towards choosing to sustain the planet despite our own incrementally small private sacrifice is that we are blissfully–and willfully and intentionally–insulated from the harm of our choices, and only see the good that comes to us from choosing the five dollar tee-shirt at Walmart or enjoying the endangered fish for dinner. The externalized costs of cheap food, cheap gas (yes, it is!) and year-round climate control is the unfelt water we swim in, to borrow from a recent metaphorical lament.

With the week ahead heating back up to near-record temperatures, and in light of this societal dilemma before us, I recalled my musings about air conditioning from the summer of 2007, then ran across this piece in the Atlantic called “how the air conditioner made modern America” that hits some of the same points.

We can no longer claim not to know the cost of mountaintop removal to get the coal to burn in the power plants that make us and the planet sick in the process of making the electricity to power our conditioned air, a modern entitlement that gives us the notion we can build high-rise buildings with walls of glass and sit comfortably inside, insulated from nature and each other.

And by the end of the week with the temperatures inside the house well up into the 70s, I’ll be wishing we had something other than five maple trees and a bunch of floor fans to keep us cool. I’ll be wishing we had air conditioning.

It’s hard not to do the easy thing.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. In my neck of the woods it takes air conditioning to keep our house in the temperature range you are wanting air conditioning for…And it has to run for close to nine months a year at that.

    Just call me a mountain dreamer…

  2. I’m with Gary – this week our outside temps will hit 112 (again) so I’m pretty much resigned to the AC. I’ve never understood, though, why in Phx AZ, AC units aren’t covered with solar panels to collect all the sun and heat they’re protecting us from. (it’s enough to make a girl start tinkering.)

  3. ” I arise torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.”
    E.B. White

    Just saw this on Julie Zickefoose’s wonderful blog – thought you’d like it.

  4. I visited Houston friends some years ago in the summer. They kept their AC set for 80+, and had ceiling fans in every room to keep the air moving. It was reasonably pleasant even to us, who are spoiled brats who live by the cool Pacific Ocean, and hardly ever need AC, so no one even installs it.