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'Dewussification' of Summer: Turning off the Air Conditioner

on June 06, 2011 8:17 AM

The air outside was spectacular last night. It had that gentle, late-spring smell and softness, so comfortable at twilight that you aren't quite sure where your skin ends and the atmosphere begins.

Nights like that, it's difficult to imagine really needing in-home air-conditioning around here. Open a window; pull up a blanket. The breeze -- maybe a fan -- is the only coolant necessary.

As I grew up in State College, that's how it was. A 1954 Cape Cod in College Heights hosted my formative years, my second-floor bedroom content and (mostly) cool in the shade of oak and pine trees. A heat-triggered attic fan sucked out any excess warmth.

Then, like so much of the country, and Generation Y especially, I became wussified, too.

It started in college, somewhere around a decade ago or so -- give or take. My college apartments in State College were air-conditioned. When I traveled west and then south for news internships, I found my new digs air-conditioned, as well. Ditto as I took on my first full-time jobs after graduation.

But it wasn't until last week, really, when an early-season heat wave prematurely swamped us with August-like weather, that I realized just how very wussified I've become:

It has been, I discovered, more than a decade since I last lived anywhere without air-conditioning. I know I'm not the only one.

Now, though, I'm not exactly sure how to anticipate a summer without the luxury.

See, I've moved into a house that's well more than a century old. She has more personality and quirks than Richard Simmons, but -- best I can tell -- has never been outfitted with central air-conditioning.

She's also only partially shaded, and she gets a lot of sun.

The window-unit thing is an option. In fact, I was on the cusp of going there last week. But then the heat wave broke, and I lived to breathe -- and procrastinate -- another day.

So I'm somewhat torn: When the real heat inevitably returns, washing over our valley hamlets as it has the Midwest, do I tough it out with box fans and ice water? Usher in the cool air at night, and try to keep it there during the day?

That would be the environmentally responsible thing to do, after all. And there's no better time to be environmentally responsible: The International Energy Agency has found that energy-related carbon emissions worldwide last year reached a new high, The Associated Press reported over the weekend. Meanwhile, developed countries like ours aren't doing nearly their part to curtail those levels, suggests a Stockholm Environment Institute analysis cited by the AP.

Not to mention: Sacrificing a little comfort will be easier on the wallet. Not plugging in an air-conditioner would help contain the burden on the power grid. It would ease the noise pollution in the neighborhood. And with the windows necessarily open, I'll be more in tune with -- less insulated from -- the community and world outside my four walls.

Also, how many generations before lived -- and thrived -- without any hint of modern climate control?

Let it be resolved, then: No air-conditioning this summer in Casa del Smeltz. In the spirit of austerity, getting back to basics, saving the world and pocketing money, let there be no more wussification here.

Of course, it's 55 degrees this morning. It's easy to find resolve today.

The forecast says it'll be 90 again before long.

That, I suppose, will be the real point of dewussification.

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