Losing Our Cool
by Stan Cox
The New Press
I picked up Stan Cox’s latest book, Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), on a sweltering central California day, cooped up in the hotbox of an ancient farmhouse where my boyfriend’s grandmother, a feisty and thrifty 91 year old, monitors the use of the shuddering swamp cooler with hawk-like determination.
Striving to remain demurely dressed in the matriarch’s presence while simultaneously surviving the incredible heat, I took to the coolest, darkest corner of the house and turned to Cox for what I hoped would be an immediate solution – or at least a glimmer of hope. What I found was a book full of important, harrowing and occasionally inspiring ideas, but unfortunately, one peppered with a few too many obstacles on its way to the finish line.
Fascinating at times, incredibly dry (that’s right, pun intended) at others, Losing Our Cool is nonetheless a pertinent examination of our nation’s unsustainable reliance on refrigerated air: air pumped out to excess in the countless McMalls, McMansions, McVehicles (Cox really likes this “McGimmick”) and other havens to which we now turn in lieu of the great outdoors. The fascination, if sometimes morbid, is undeniable: realizing, for example, that America uses as much energy to power air conditioning alone as the entire African continent uses to power everything is, well, disgusting. Reading Cox’s startling compilation of statistics, it’s impossible not to feel chastened, not to think twice about switching on the a/c in the car on a warm-ish summer afternoon or to consider the dangerous effects of sick building syndrome and perpetually recycled air while lounging the day away in a refrigerated mall, movie theater, grocery aisle or neighborhood (Mc)Starbucks.
But here’s the frustrating part: what, other than monitoring our own a/c and energy use, can we do about the horrific implications of over-development, over-use, over-consumption and eco-disaster that Cox, in no uncertain terms, warns us of? For eight out of nine chapters, Cox promises solutions…eventually. But as compelling as much of his argument may be, the drier and more depressing bits leave one itching to skip to the end – where, between a few intriguing ideas and a few more obvious ones, lie a number of additional solutions that may work – but require far more power, expertise and resource than the average overheated citizen has at his or her disposal.
I do not mean, by griping about the inaccessibility of Cox’s proposals, to suggest that we don’t need to know about them. On the contrary, it seems critical to spread awareness of our options amongst the non-engineering-savvy public as well as into the corporate and think-tank stratosphere if we are ever to see widespread action and sustainable initiatives move beyond models of green architecture and into the mainstream. But perhaps a more accessible feature or addendum to Cox’s book – a pamphlet, web campaign or even (ugh) social network-based media initiative to spread the word on what we can do NOW- is necessary to educate people from the ground up.
I was already dedicated to the basic thesis of Cox’s book – that is, to using less and living more, living better and beginning to reverse the damage we’ve done to our ravaged planet – before even glancing at his text. But even so, I, and especially anyone more skeptical than myself about the advantages of turning off the air conditioner, would benefit from a clearer understanding of the issues at hand before delving into the drier charts and numbers featured throughout Losing Our Cool. And maybe then, armed with investment and knowledge beyond the basics, our inevitable petitions, letters to local businesses and informed actions taken upon completing the book would sidestep knee-jerk liberalism and initiate lasting change.
Cooperation and corporate pressure are essential for success in this battle; that much, by the end of the book, is resoundingly clear. So now it remains for Cox, and those of us who have read his book and taken the urgency of his point – concerning both air conditioning and greater energy usage alike – to heart, to act. And, even more so, to do so in a way that will most likely and effectively disseminate that urgency to the masses without alienating or otherwise affronting everyone who enjoys coming in out of the scalding summer heat and enjoying the quiet, refrigerated purr of the ubiquitous air conditioner.
by Lauren Westerfield