Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Summer pleasure: staying cool -- July 4, 2019 column


When the afternoon summer sun beats on the thermometer outside my kitchen window, the red liquid in the gauge shoots all the way to the top -- 120 degrees.

The radio and TV report it’s only in the mid-90s, but I feel the thermometer’s pain.

“It’s HOT out here,” it seems to scream. “HOT, HOT, HOT.” I take it seriously -- not literally.

At least we’re not in France, where the recorded temperature reached 114.6 degrees – the highest ever -- the other day. At least we have air conditioning.

Europeans have always felt superior to Americans for our wimpy reliance on artificially cooled air.

“People here don’t like air conditioning. They think it’s a waste of energy, it’s bad for the environment, and people say it makes them sick,” a Californian who has lived abroad for a decade, the last four years in Berlin, told The Wall Street Journal.

When it rarely got too hot for comfort, Europeans closed up shop – and schools and offices, too. Don’t laugh. Remember what happens when an inch of snow falls on Washington. 

But early summer heat waves have swept Germany, France and Spain -- countries that have traditionally coped with summer heat with electric fans.

Only about 5 percent of European households have air conditioning, compared with 90 percent of Americans, according to a report last year by the International Energy Agency.

That worked when the temperature rose above the mid-80s only a few days a year, but as 100-degree days become more frequent, Europeans are questioning whether they can continue their holier-than-thou attitude toward mechanically cooled air.

You never think you need the Klimaanlage – the German word that literally means climate apparatus – until the temperature hits triple digits.

The worldwide demand for air conditioning will soar in coming years, the energy agency says. It predicts 10 new air conditioners will be sold every second for the next 30 years. The number of AC systems installed in buildings is expected to rise from 1.6 billion in 2016 to 5.6 billion in 2050.

And that raises “an urgent need for policy action to improve cooling efficiency,” the agency said. Unfortunately, the Trump administration doesn’t see the need.

It stopped enforcing the 2015 rule that prohibited use of HFCs or  hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change, in air conditioners and refrigerators, and is rolling back scores of other environmental rules.

Meanwhile, it’s hot out there.

Naturally, sweltering Europe has made dandy fodder for reporters writing for the American audience.

The Washington Post’s man in Berlin reported: “Residents are sharing maps on social media of air-conditioned buildings and cafes in their area, fans and portable cooling systems are sold out, employers are worried the lack of cooling is killing productivity, and at least one Berlin air-conditioning installer suspended its phone service because of a flood of calls, according to a recorded voice message.”

German authorities, worried the surface of the famous Autobahn will melt in the heat, has set speed limits in some areas. France barred cars over 10 years old from some city centers to curb pollution.

A fellow in Germany caught riding naked on a motorcycle said it was too hot for clothes, and women in Munich were told to put their bikini tops back on.

In the United Kingdom, SkyNews advised Brits to stash their pyjamas and pillow cases in the freezer before bedtime and, of course, to carry an umbrella -- the British answer for any weather emergency.

Sizzling Europeans might learn from orator, Secretary of State and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who, in America’s pre-AC era, had a secret, low-tech technique to keep cool on the summer lecture circuit:

“I take a small piece of ice . . . I put it in the palm of my right hand and hold it tightly. Then I shift it to my left hand, holding it in either hand for about five minutes. Then I pass my cold hands over my forehead. I have always found this very effective,” Bryan said, according to an article on the White House Historical Association site.

As for me, I’d rather keep cool with the ice in a drink and the AC cranked up.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All right reserved.

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