July 24, 2015

Heating and Cooling: How Other Countries Have Blown Me Away

Air conditioning: a national obsession.  In New York, retail shops have their doors open to the street, beckoning shoppers with frigid air pouring like ocean waves onto the sidewalk.  What could be more wasteful than a constant stream of forced air, cooled by overworked refrigerants, dissipating helplessly into the air, powered by plants that are making the use of these air conditioners ever more widespread?

Image source: www.treehugger.comMy first foray into international living was a four-month stint in Ecuador, during which excursions to the coast and the rainforest would have had anyone wishing for air conditioning.  In a country in which 42% of the rural population lives in poverty, electricity use is reserved for the essentials, like lighting at night, certainly not for cooling a poorly insulated dwelling.  Instead, innovative designs like homes built on stilts allow for cooling breezes to waft through.  


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Armenian farmingThen later, when I lived with an Armenian family as a Peace Corps volunteer, they showed me the ways of living without a refrigerator.  Food that was not consumed fresh (from the lush gardens surrounding the house) was preserved or fermented to circumvent the need for refrigeration.  Milk from a cow grazing just yards away was either consumed within hours or turned into the most flavorful yogurt I've ever tasted, known as matzoon.  The connection to where food is sourced from in the Armenian countryside is as natural as the American obsession with elaborate fast food combinations.

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Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza BallsWhile living in China, I did observe the use air conditioning in the summer, although in the countryside (which qualifies as a town of 400,000 people) it would most commonly be used in the offices of high level administrators, not in your average residence.  In the winter, however, almost everyone huddled together under a shared blanket draped over a table with a heater underneath, a quite efficient way to keep entire families warm - and close!  The Japanese kotatsu has a heater built right into the underside of the table:


Japanese KotatsuSo upon returning to America, one thing (among many) that strikes me is that air conditioning hasn't done much for our culture other than make us spoiled and lazy.  While much of the world focuses on functionality, we focus on convenience and opulence.  And as the world gets richer, so too does the trend towards an international obsession with air conditioning.



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Posted by Melissa Zwick on July 24, 2015 at 11:21 AM in Travel Permalink
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