Ban AC in D.C.?

Local man wants stores fined for overuse

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010  |  Updated 11:46 AM EDT
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Ban AC in D.C.?

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PHILADELPHIA - JULY 10: An energy efficient air conditioner is seen for sale at Home Depot July 10, 2003 in Philadelphia. U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham had just visited the Philadelphia Home Depot on a nationwide Smart Energy Tour, discussing the needs for homeowners, consumers, and businesses to be more energy efficient. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

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D.C. resident Nicko Margolies is rightly annoyed by the practice of many stores in the city to set their air conditioning on full blast while leaving their front doors wide open.

In a letter to the Washington Post, Margolies calls it “an extraordinarily wasteful act that strains the city's electrical grid” that is “terrible for the environment.”

True. But Margolies isn’t just griping -- he is also calling for legislation. He wants the District to “punish stores” that “blow cold air directly into the street.” He tells us that he will be contacting every member of the D.C. Council, and “hopefully starting a movement” toward legislation similar to that adopted by New York City two hot summers ago. (So far, nine New York stores have been slapped with $200 fines.)

While Margolies is dead-on about the wastefulness of the practice, it’s hard to see why realtors who choose to waste their own money by blasting the AC out the door should be sanctioned by law. It’s a piggish practice, but in a free society, we are permitted to squander our own money.

Margolies would likely argue that the stores are not just hurting themselves, though, since the practice overtaxes the local power grid and leads to brownouts. But lots of people waste electricity, not just businesses. A better approach would be for citizens like Margolies to boycott these businesses, and get them to change their ways by hurting their profits.

Margolies at least has a valid complaint. Over the weekend, the Post ran a neo-Luddite manifesto by Stan Cox, author of a book on air conditioning, basically saying that AC should be abolished. He imagines a post-AC D.C. in which workers are given hot days off and are permitted midday naps, more people spending more time outside, and -- best of all -- shorter sessions for Congress.

While his vision is a pleasant one, it’s flawed. Cox says folks will spend more time outside, getting to know their neighbors and seeing more of the city, because it would be too hot to stay indoors. This may be true, but Cox ignores the fact that this would be forced upon individuals -- we’d be outside because we would not have the option of staying inside due to heat.

Cox just doesn’t want to accept the fact that a lot of Americans prefer sitting in their living rooms watching TV to chatting with their neighbors over the fence or at the corner park. But it’s really not for him to decide -- it’s a matter of individual choice.

As for the Get Out Of Work Free card Cox envisions, it flies in the face of history. Workers were hardly treated better in the days before air conditioning -- they just suffered more. Fourteen-hour days and child labor were the norm not too long ago. And yes, those workers, and those around the world suffering similar conditions today, had no climate control.

That’s why they call them “sweatshops.”

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