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Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer) Hardcover – May 25, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Cox (Sick Planet) provides the first-ever book-length look at the consequences on our environment and on our health of air-conditioning in this enlightening study. He documents how greenhouse emissions increased and ozone depletion skyrocketed once air conditioners became prevalent, and presents staggering statistics: the amount of electricity Americans use for powering their air conditioners alone equals the same amount the 930 million residents of Africa use for all their electricity needs. Cox reveals some surprising information as he explores air conditioning as a potential spreader of contagions—of asthma and allergies and possibly even sexual dysfunctions. He offers a reality check to proposed solutions that have fatal flaws (and may be worse than the problems they attempt to solve) including dematerialization, improved AC energy efficiency, and clean energy options. In addition, he provides a list of changes that will help: reducing indoor heat, using fans, utilizing cool roofs, and increasing vegetation. Well-written, thoroughly researched, with a truly global focus, the book offers much for consumers, environmentalists, and policy makers to consider before powering up to cool down. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
David Owen, author of Green Metropolis
As Stan Cox details in his excellent new book, Losing Our Cool, air conditioning has been a major force in shaping western society.”
Bradford Plumer, The National
This book is the go-to source for a better understanding of the complexity of pumping cold air into a warming climate.”
Important. . . .What I like about Cox’s book is that he isn’t an eco-nag or moralist."
Tom Condon, Hartford Courant
Stan Cox offers both some sobering facts and some interesting strategies for thinking through a big part of our energy dilemma.”
Well-written, thoroughly researched, with a truly global focus, the book offers much for consumers, environmentalists, and policy makers to consider before powering up to cool down.”
Top customer reviews
The paradox of air conditioning is a great sociological metaphor for the myriad ways we as a culture "drive right by" evidence of our doing great destruction to the ecology when realistic other options are available.
Cox's book evidences careful research, very approachable prose and a wry sense of humor. This is one of those books that was waiting to be written and Cox has done an excellent job. You will enjoy and be challenged by Losing Our Cool.
Our climate also doesn't get very cool in night during the summertime, so opening the windows doesn't help. I joke that here it gets up to 90 degrees during the day, and cools off all the way to 89 at night.
Don't get me wrong. I like bright sunshine. I open my windows, and my blinds, any chance I get. And it feels good to go for a long walk, even if it means working up a sweat. But that's only if I can jump right in the shower afterward; sitting around at work at 25 C or even 30, or worse yet, trying to sleep in those conditions, is something I will never acquiesce to. I suppose I really should not be living in an area with hot and humid summers, but it's not as if we all have a completely free choice in the matter (just as living in a pleasant but small dwelling, or living a short walk to work, are not always available options).
Cox makes a very weak case for the notion that we get addicted to AC, that we lose our ability to handle hot weather due to being able to escape it easily. I thought he might present some detailed evidence from physiology of some insidious effect on the body of not exposure to heat, but all he really seems to say is that not getting hot means that—*Duh*—you will not handle it as well when you get hot. I saw no indication that the effect is irreversible or cumulative, or that there are other, more wide-ranging health effects. Indeed, most of the places with the longest life expectancies have cool or even cold climates.
This sort of good-leads to-bad seems to pervade "green" analyses of many environmental and social issues. For Cox, questions of whether the electricity for AC comes from carbon-free sources, or whether the refrigerant chosen damages the ozone layer or is a GHG, seems secondary; the real problem is our insistence on not being hot. He exhorts us to develop a "broader definition of comfort," to avoid "thermal monotony." "Without the extremes, enjoyment of moderate conditions declines." I'm almost surprised that he doesn't proceed to chastise us for wanting not to smell, aided by all that sweating. OMG, people in places like Quito or Tasmania or Monaco must be truly in a wretched state, with all that thermal monotony!
The dreaded Jevons effect (the "rebound") had to make its way into the discussion. I do have to give credit to Cox for quantifying the amount of rebound that has been reported for various activities: "0 to 50% for air conditioning, 10 to 30% for heating, 10 to 40% for water heating, 5 to 12% for lighting, 65% for overall home electricity use, 5 to 25% for home weatherization, and 5 to 50% for vehicle fuel consumption." I had not seen much quantification of this elsewhere. Yet even though the amount of rebound never approaches totality, Cox asserts that greater energy efficiency in AC units is not enough to prevent continuing growth in energy use. Part of the trouble with this argument, which has been used in so many settings, is that, apart from the fact that it is generally only a partial cancellation of the benefits, is that it doesn't even matter what the source of the improvement is. If switching from incandescent bulbs to LEDs means that people will use more lighting, then presumably cheaper coal, or higher incomes overall, would have the same effect.
It's not clear that air conditioning is the energy hog that is claimed. Early in the book, it is said that if you look at the heating-degree days in the US vs the cooling-degree days, and compare 1950 to 2007, you find that there are actually slightly fewer days when some temperature adjustment could be called for. So if there is much more energy used now that we've migrated partly to the Sun Belt, it must be for other reasons: population increase, bigger houses, and of course the fact that we compensate more for the temperature extremes in the hot areas than we did before AC was available. Living in a hot climate, with AC, is not itself more energy-wasteful than living in a cold climate with indoor heating.
There are a few specific points to mention in passing. Other reviews have already commented on how the ability of heat pumps to move more calories than the energy they consume is not actually connected to the efficiency of power generation. I do find it remarkable that Cox does not manage to clear up this issue, even after returning to it in an appendix, and even after consultation with an expert on the subject.
On page 177, the book says that fans can bring hot air into an air-conditioned space. But it's decisively important to run the fan in the right direction; normally this means running it to draw air up from floor to ceiling. Then you won't have that problem.
Finally, I find the idea of putting vegetation on the roof of a building, to keep it cool through transpiration of moisture upward, frankly quite silly. If you want to cool your roof, you can make it white-colored. You can go farther and arrange to adaptively change the roof color to dark in the winter. You can even arrange for moisture to trickle over the roof, providing evaporative cooling (an approach that works better in lower-humidity areas). There is no need to heap loose dirt overhead, the problems of which require no explanation.
Most recent customer reviews
"Notice that the air-condition system pictured [in the figure on the next page] is using only one kilowatt of electrical...Read more