Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Irony of Advocating for A/C in Schools

This was a hot start to the school year. I taught a few classes with sweat dripping off my face as I spoke animatedly and enthusiastically about my courses. It was uncomfortable to be sure. And it was no better for students staring back at me all pink-faced and glistening. It's hard to learn when you're uncomfortable.

But when I discussed teachers who are advocating for A/C in the classroom (and a Premier who agrees with them), my grade tens were keen enough to pick up on the irony of it all, on the paradox created. Our excessive use of fossil fuels (and factory farms) has increased the global temperature such that we're seeing hotter summers, and we can expect them to increase in intensity in the years following. And this solution of adding A/C to all the schools will make the privileged few more comfortable in the short term, but it will actually exacerbate the problem for the many and around the world.

It's worse than a band-aid solution. A better analogy might be to rip the crap out of a mosquito bite (which we can also expect more of) to get some immediate relief and then put a band-aid on the bloody mess we created, which still itches but now it hurts too. It's a self-wounding-band-aid solution.

There are some immediate solutions that use less energy. I gave up time instead of money and went to school shortly after six every morning to open my classroom windows and those of the room across the hall to blow out the hot air. I tried to convince the custodians to turn off half the hall lights (emergency lighting only), but I got nowhere on that one. There are also more innovative solutions like running a fan through a cooler full of ice. You still have to make the ice block, but that might not take significantly more energy if there's room in your freezer for a large tupperware container (or old milk carton) of water.

But this attitude has to change dramatically if we're going to get out of this alive. Everything will have to shift to acclimatize to the new normals in temperature. Some teachers are asking to be allowed to dismiss students on very hot days. That could be a nightmare for working parents having to pick up kids suddenly, but perhaps we could allow siestas during particularly hot afternoons. It might be the case that we really utilize a daylight-savings-type system where schools start a couple hours earlier from late May to early October. Or maybe, once students all have their own computers that they carry back and forth to school, classrooms could keep their windows open at night without fear of computers being stolen. The schools are all alarmed anyway.

My point is that we can't keep looking at old solutions that are part of the problem to fix this situation. We have to develop more innovated strategies. And part of that is just getting used to it - just plain adapting to our changing environment. People who don't have A/C in their homes have an easier time in hot schools and outside because their bodies have been able to get used to the change. See here and here: "People who spend a great deal of time outdoors become 'outdoor acclimatized.' These persons are affected less by heat or cold extremes because their bodies have adjusted to the outdoor environments." And here:  "It takes one to two hours a day in hot temperatures to acclimate properly. You don't feel the stress of the heat. You feel more comfortable."

The more we add A/C everywhere, the more we'll need A/C to cope. We're starting down a spiral that will keep us unable to manage in the outdoors. Out of all possible solutions for the sticky mess we wade through at the beginning and end of each school year, adding air conditioning to schools is the worse.


Lorne said...

A very interesting post, Marie. I have often wondered during this time of rapid climate change whether or not it is possible to get by without air conditioning. In our house we always make sure the windows are closed up early when the day promises a lot of humidity; it helps in terms of reducing the frequency with which we use the A/C. As well, when it comes to simply heat without humidity, having some protection from the sun through trees, etc. is helpful. Fans, especially at night, bring some much-needed air circulation.

I was not aware of the physiologic studies regarding adaptation to heat, though I have often wondered how Cubans and Costa Ricans function in their hot and sometimes humid climates.

Ultimately, as you suggest in your post, it does come down to the first world's reluctance to embrace measures that may require sacrifice and some discomfort. From where I stand, i don't think that is going to change unless we have some very strong political leadership and direction, neither of which are currently discernible.

Marie Snyder said...

It'll change eventually, by design or necessity. The former would be optimal, but I'm losing hope!

al said...

The suggestion to run a fan through a cooler of ice has its own to run the fans, energy to make the ice,energy to transport the ice etc etc.

Marie Snyder said...

I recognize that. It uses less but it still uses some.