It’s that time of year again, when air conditioners are pulled out of closets and basements and popped into windows where they’ll belch hot air into the streets for the rest of the summer. While I would be the last to deny the devastating effects of heat waves, I am forced, for the second year in a row, to plead for moderation.
As city-dwellers, we’re pretty sheltered from the sources, and effects, of our energy consumption. The reality is that our electricity comes from hugely polluting plants, running on nuclear energy, oil or, more than half of them, on coal.
Coal is crazy polluting, and its extraction is destroying the Appalachian wilderness as we speak. The geniuses in the coal business came up with “mountaintop removal” coal mining in the 1970s, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: strip the top of a mountain of ALL vegetation, use massive amounts of explosives to blow the dirt and rock off the top of the mountain away, and then use a $100-million machine to scrape the coal up.
Valleys, and the ancient streams that created them (and sustain one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the country), are filled in with the waste and rubble that are pushed down the sides of the mountain. Animals die. Residents are subjected to deafening blasting, 24 hours a day, as close as 300 feet from their homes. Houses crack, foundations crumble, and once all the vegetation is removed, devastating floods wash away whatever is left. Water supplies are contaminated and property values plunge.
As mountaintop removal has increased the amount of coal “produced” annually, the employment of people in the process has dropped enormously, from a high of 125,000+ employed in the early 50s, to about 16,000 today. Yet, according to a University of West Virginia study released in March, residents of coal field areas suffer from much higher levels of chronic heart, lung and kidney disease.
How do you feel about your electricity consumption NOW? Before you turn on that AC, let’s explore ways to keep cool while consuming less.
1. Install a ceiling fan. They help enormously, and they cost less than a month’s electric bill. And/or get a GOOD quality floor fan, like a Vornado — it’s quiet, effective and energy efficient. I have one on a stand, which can be directed at sleepers or sitters for maximum air flow.
2. Pay attention to light and air flow. Hang curtains to cover windows that let in a lot of sun. Remember, if the sun heats up your tile floor, or your walls, the heated-up spots will radiate heat for hours after sunset. Limiting air flow during the hottest hours of the day will keep cool nighttime air in the house, and the temperature down.
3. Lessen heat produced in the house. Change several (or all) lightbulbs to compact fluorescent varieties — not only do they use 75% less energy, they generate almost no heat. Regular bulbs are like tiny space heaters, and halogens are like heat bombs: they operate at 1,000 degrees. Put your computer on a shorter “sleep” cycle; monitors and CPUs generate a lot of heat, so let yours shut itself off when it’s idle more than three minutes.
4. Modify yourself. Wear woven clothing, instead of knit — it’s much cooler — and stay away from synthetics. Wear flip-flops, or no shoes, in the house. Buy a stack of bandannas for a couple of bucks each, and soak in cool water and tie on your head or around your neck — you’ll stay cool for pennies. Take a one-minute shower if you’re boiling, and air-dry.
5. Think. Before you turn anything on, remember where that electricity is coming from, and at what cost. Do you really need 300 watts of light to brush your teeth, when there’s light coming in from the hall? Can you cool down in the air-conditioned coffee shop on the corner, instead of firing up your home system just for yourself? The power you save will pay for a lot of iced coffees…
Check out more on mountaintop removal and the fight against it at ilovemountains.org, christiansforthemountains.org, and mountainjusticesummer.org. And take action — the people of Appalachia, and its plants and animals, need you to speak up on their behalf.