I was in Washington DC recently and will be there again soon. It’s a wonderful city. There’s much talk about the subjects I care about, excellent ethnic food, and people are remarkably friendly: everywhere I went I got into conversation with someone, even in the reception area at the Brookings Institute. But it is a city of air-conditioning. In the Berkshires, where I live, only stores and restaurants and new mansions have A/C.
Why, I wonder, do people want to live in buildings colder in the summer than in the winter? I have learned to carry a sweater or shawl in the summer because buildings are so cold. Cold. Not just pleasantly cool, the way an old farmhouse, shaded by huge oaks, is cool, or the way our house, with an attic fan going at night, and the windows and shades closed during the heat of the day, is cool. These buildings are downright cold, the way our house is cold in the winter, so chilly that my sister-in-law shivers until we turn the heat to 70. But in the summer, the same people think that temperature is okay, and even desirable.
What does this mean? What does it tell us about ourselves? Do we fear nature and need to control it? Have we been persuaded by advertising and social pressure that this makes sense, in spite of its being completely against our evolutionary history. It’s expensive and wasteful.
But people are deeply resistant to the idea of turning the A/C up or the heat down. I need to figure out the motivation behind this wacky behavior, because I know I’ll never convince people to try something else until I do.
In my books I’ve written about this in terms of “comfort zones.” I’ll post some sections, and would love to have feedback.