After months of gloom, Pacific Northwest summers cause a sort of regional amnesia, like mothers experience immediately after giving birth: We forget how awful October through June can be because July is just so damn perfect.
Except when it's not. This week temperatures are breaking the 80-degree mark, causing people all over the city to start hanging out in the magazine section at Walgreens and, even worse, contemplating purchasing air conditioners. I'm here to tell you: Do not do it. While it's true that air conditioning does make life bearable in much of the country, where high humidity makes it feel like you're in a nonconsensual full body hug as soon as you walk outside, Seattle summers just don't fall into that category, even when it gets into the 90s, which it undoubtedly will for a week or two sometime in the next couple of months.
While only a third of households in Seattle have AC, nationally, almost 90 percent of America is air-conditioned. That's a huge energy suck: American air conditioners account for an estimated 5 percent of our annual energy consumption, and they spew about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. Unless your name is Andrew Wheeler, the acting head of Trump's climate change denying EPA, you probably understand that releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere exacerbates global warming, and so while AC may temporarily solve your swamp ass problem, in the end, it only makes the air outside even hotter. This is what we call a "vicious cycle," and it's not one most of us healthy, non-elderly folks in Seattle need to contribute to.
Not only is AC terrible for the climate, it's also a contributor to urban and suburban sprawl in much of the U.S. Until the wide adoption of AC, much of, for example, the southwest was unlivable for larges swaths of the population. But now, thanks to AC, you can easily live in Phoenix, where people move from air-conditioned homes to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices and then back again, hardly stepping outside at all. At one point, the climate was cooled by trees and other vegetation, but we've paved over those spaces and replaced them with concrete and asphalt that absorb heat during the day and release it back into the air at night. This is called the "urban heat island effect," and it's why cities tend to be more hellishly hot than the rural or wilderness areas they've replaced.
Prior to the widespread adoption of AC, homes were designed with the climate in mind. They had more windows and higher ceilings to allow for airflow. They had good insulation and porches that people sat on in evenings (or even slept on hot summer nights). But today, in much of the country, as soon as you feel a hot breeze, you go inside, shut the windows, and crank up the AC. And that shit is loud as hell. In Seattle, a blissfully un-air-conditioned city (at home, if not the office), on summer nights you can hear life outside and not just the constant humming of every one of your neighbors' AC.
So, don't get it. It will be hot for a few days this summer, but that's a small amount of suffering compared to the feeling of moral superiority you get from forgoing AC. Plus, there are things you can do to cool down your space the old-fashioned way. It may seem counterintuitive, but when you leave your house in the morning for work (or when you're staying inside watching porn instead of going to work), shut your windows and lower your blinds. This keeps the heat out during the hottest part of the day. And then, when the sun dips low in the sky and the temperatures drop, open your windows and let the cool air in. It's simple, but it works. Ceiling fans are helpful, window fans are good too, and if you place a bowl of water and ice in front of your fan, even better! Or, you can make a swamp cooler, as I did with my trusty former intern Jamie a few years ago. It works! Or, at least, it works enough for Seattle, the greatest place on Earth for at least three months a year.