Deadly Summer HeatBut, before you can enjoy fall in St. Louis, you have to survive summer. Inevitably, there is a week or so when the temperature hovers in the high 90s, humidity spikes, and the rain stops falling. This last summer was no different. Except for the usual carping about the miserable conditions and the browning of lawns, the annual event was not newsworthy.
But in the land of our fair city's namesake over 10,000 people died during a two-week period when the temperatures routinely exceeded 100 degrees F. Why in the world did so many people perish in France while at the same time there were no appreciable deaths attributed to weather in the American West, which was experiencing similar, and in some cases more dire, conditions?
One reason is air conditioning, or in the case of Europe, the lack thereof. There are numerous reasons why air conditioning is less prevalent in Europe, not the least of which is cultural. But a major contributor is the relative expense of energy, and that is by design. As progressives like to point out, energy is steeply taxed across the pond in an effort to stifle its use and in turn, encourage self rationing. Sounds good until that pesky law of unintended consequences kicks in.
Specifically, since air conditioning uses energy and the cost of energy is artificially inflated, many facilities (nursing homes and private residences in particular) remained unconditioned. In turn, the most vulnerable French citizens, the elderly, began to succumb to the heat in record-breaking numbers. It appears that air conditioning wasn't just a luxury but a life-saving necessity.
Round and RoundNow here is the conundrum. Many contend that global warming was the reason that Europe saw these extremes. It is widely held that due to its consumption of energy, air conditioning is a prime contributor to global warming. And yet more air conditioning seems to be needed so that humanity can deal with the impact of global warming. As Jacques Chirac himself might say, it is a vicious cycle, no? It is a vicious cycle, yes. But it is a cycle we can hopefully break. I have hope in mankind because there are two things we can count on: our extraordinary avarice, and our remarkable capacity for innovation.
Avarice is manifested in our "comfort covetousness." The United States is often chastised because our energy use per capita is so high, but the genie is out of the bottle. Do you really think we will ever as a society self impose any energy conservation measure that would diminish significantly our cherished quality of life? We may piddle on the edges, but we aren't about to step backwards on our own accord.
And do you think we can tell developing countries that they cannot aspire to our level of comfort? "Sorry lads, we appreciate your contribution to the world economy and all, but nix on the A/C. There just isn't enough ozone to go around." The answer is no. In the parlance of the Old Testament, the rest of the world covets our donkey and the air conditioned barn he stays in. So even if we put the brakes on in the West, the threat is going to grow elsewhere on the globe.
It's Time To Advance The TechnologyThat doesn't mean we throw in the towel. To the contrary, it is because of one's desire to continually better his condition that the second constant, our capacity for innovation, is so encouraging. I sincerely believe we can and will maintain our standard of living while using less energy, because we will develop the means to do it.
So what is government's role if, as I contend, artificially raising the price of energy via taxation is a wrongheaded notion? Tap into and capitalize on avarice and innovation. This can be done in two broad ways. First, encourage investment in new technology via tax credits and grants targeted at infrastructure and research. Second, raise the bar on efficiency standards and, in turn, prod the complacent to advance our science.
Do you have a differing opinion? If so, tell me. In the meantime, make this fall a time of new beginnings by tapping into your own creativity and making your designs a bit more responsible and sustainable. ES