Thursday Vox published a piece about the need to reconsider air-conditioning in order to promote “cooling justice.” The article is based on a book on the same topic but this interview with the author is a bit vague. What exactly is “cooling justice” and what would that look like in practice? I confess I’m a bit curious if only because I like to know what it is that the left has planned for all of us. Here’s the author not quite telling us what that is:
What I hoped to do with the book was by tracing this history people could consider a radically different way of living, one that doesn’t have to be suffering. It can actually be pleasurable. I think a lot of people are too afraid to even try that because they think they have to give something up. I hope that it can open the door just a little bit for people to really re-contextualize what it means to be comfortable. I think there’s something to be said about making us a bit more comfortable with the discomfort of outside air.
Get “confortable with discomfort” doesn’t sound like an improvement. Anyway, it has to be done because air-conditioning is racist, hence the need for “cooling justice.”
In a heat wave, because of the strain on the energy grid from climate disasters, a private, monopolized energy company will sometimes deliberately shut off the energy grid in order to preserve the integrity of the whole, and the neighborhoods that they choose to do that in are the ones that generate the least profit — which are usually working-class neighborhoods of color.
And then there’s the wealth disparity that we’re seeing, especially in developing countries: that air conditioning units have become a marker of class and sometimes ethnic divisions, of who can and cannot afford AC. That’s why an approach to cooling justice — ways to make sure that everyone has access — is super crucial because AC has really become a dividing tool.
Of course an alternative solution to power companies shutting off parts of the grid to prevent a brownout is generating more power. But New York hasn’t really been going in that direction lately, having recently shut down a nuclear plant that provided a lot of the city’s power. But if you’re still curious what this new vision of cooling justice would look like I guess you’ll have to buy the book because the author never really spells it out other than to say that better designed buildings will be really expensive:
I’m interested in more radical changes so that the same technology that was bred in the United States, and that same definition of comfort, doesn’t just get carbon-copied and spread to the rest of the world.
When you have open asphalt, which often falls in sections of the city with the working poor, you have hotter cities. Planting more trees and green space can lower the urban heat island effect by several degrees. You can also have better-designed buildings, but that’s tricky because you need new materials and lots of money. You can provide heat pumps, but you also need to redesign the building’s air systems. And we also need more access to publicly cooled spaces so that we’re not all, individually, cooling our homes.
Getting comfortable with discomfort and some kind of public cooling spaces are the options you’ll have once your private AC is no longer an option. That’s the vision of utopia we’re facing once cooling justice becomes the next big thing.