The Confused Environmentalist

Getting Hotter
by Jennifer Weiss -- July 2nd, 2012

It’s hard to have a conversation today without the word “HOT” popping up within the first 60 seconds. In fact, as we enter our second day of over 100 degree heat here in North Carolina, I think HOT is the only thing that people are talking about. This is mostly because it’s so hot, I think our brains are kind of melting. I know mine is.

The heat saps our strength and we find ourselves making excuses to stay out of the sun and find indoor activities to do during the day. It  makes us appreciate things like air conditioning, ice cubes, and small breezes. It makes some of us grumpy. And while many of us acknowledge that the heat may have a little something to do with a thing we call global climate change, it is hard to change our habits at this time – especially if these habits involve keeping us cool. I am no exception.

Right now, my home A/C is running almost full time and if I do venture out into my car, I immediately turn the car’s A/C to “max’ and keep it there for the entire trip.  I may be an environmentalist, but I get hot too. I try to lessen the impact by keeping my home thermostat set at 77 degrees during the day, using my home’s ceiling fans to circulate the air and parking in the shade when I do happen to venture out in my car.  Little things, but they make me feel better.

It is during these times that I notice something about our culture.  When the going gets hot, all attempts at sustainability go out the window.  Store owners leave their doors wide open to invite shoppers into the cool air. Cars idle in parking lots as passengers keep cool while they wait for the shopper to emerge.  Air conditioning units blast cold air 24 hours a day to keep buildings at a comfortable (if not chilly) temperature to offset the heat that blasts at us outside. It’s as if, in our heat-tinged fog, we have forgotten that sometimes, conserving energy means not increasing our usage.

As our electric grids are pushed to the max to keep us cool and we idle our cars in long lines to purchase fuel, our emissions jump proportionately which, as you might suspect, increases the likelihood of global warming.  It’s a strange, cruel, inevitable global warming spiral.

There are many things we can do to stop the spiral, or at least slow it down. Top of the list is to harness the power of the sun and make the very thing that is heating up our environment be the first place we turn to cool it down.  But there are other things too.  Little things.  Like closing store doors and not letting the cool air escape.  Like turning off the car when running errands and parking in the shade.  Like turning up the thermostat – 76 degrees still feels great when it is 100 degrees outside.

It sure is hot out there. Unfortunately, if we keep going the way we are going, it will keep getting hotter.

©2016 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff