Energy

Chill Out

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 14, 2006

So you're feeling ambivalent about air conditioning.

You're concerned that pumping all the hot air out of homes, shops, and offices is actually making the outside air even hotter, and that the huge draw on electricity forces Ontario to buy power from coal fired plants in the Ohio Valley, which pollute the air.

For those who want to hold out as long as possible, here's a how-to on keeping cool without air conditioning.

The list is exhaustive and pretty self-explanatory, but I'd like to direct your attention to the second tip: "If all else fails, go to the mall, library, church, movie theater or some other air-conditioned public building."

In her excellent final book Dark Age Ahead, the late, lamented Jane Jacobs wrote about the heat wave of 1995 in which 739 people in Chicago died as a result. Eric Klinenberg contrasted two neighbourhoods, both similar in socioeconomic status, that had wildly divergent death rates.

In North Lawndale, where the death rate was so high, elderly people were not accustomed to walking in their district because there was almost nothing for them to walk to. It was a commercial and social desert, almost devoid of stores and other gathering places. Old people were thus unacquainted with storekeepers who could welcome them into air conditioned space. They were afraid, too, to leave their apartments, for fear these would be burglarized while they were out. For the same reason, they feared strangers who came to check on them. In the crisis they were behaving as they always did in this place with no functioning community. This was perhaps Klinenberg's most horrifying discovery.

In South Lawndale, where a much higher proportion of the elderly survived, everything was diametrically different. There the elderly were accustomed to walking outside. There were plenty of places for them to go on the district's bustling, crowded streets. They knew storekeepers and had no hesitation about hanging around in their air-conditioned spaces, where they also had access to water. They felt secure about leaving their apartments, and they trusted those who came to check on them, some of whom they knew as acquaintances. In the crisis they were behaving much as they always did in this place with a lively, functioning community. (Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead, Vintage Canada, 2005, pp. 83-4)

Whether you live in a neighbourhood like the former or the latter, reach out for help if it gets too hot. If you have nowhere else to go, then set up shop in the lobby of City Hall.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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