Addicted to Comfort

The past couple of days have been hot. They’ve been the kind of days that make me wish I had central air conditioning even though I’ve lived my entire adult life without it, and coastal California is pretty darn temperate.

When it does get hot I imagine that my puritanical forebears will admire me for accepting God’s world as it is. I also think about an accusation made against modern Americans that they are “addicted to comfort.”

A little background.

Julia Butterfly Hill in a tree.

I was once asked by San Diego State to host a panel discussion at an environmental conference where my guests would be Daryl Hannah (the movie star) and a celebrated environmentalist named Julia Butterfly Hill.

Hill got to be a famous activist when she climbed a redwood tree in Northern California that was in danger of being harvested for wood and she refused to leave. She actually lived in the tree for two years or some other outrageous length of time.

Being a strict environmentalist, she naturally avoided things that required lots of fossil fuels; things like car use and air conditioning. I asked her if environmentalists had to spread the message that people have to do without some of the creature comforts and conveniences we’ve come accustomed to, she basically said “yes.

That was when she accused Americans of being addicted to comfort.

It was the kind of comment that really does make environmentalists sound puritanical. Futurist David Brin mocks the attitude as a claim that to save the world we need to “shiver in the dark.”

But I share Hill’s skepticism that American ingenuity will lead to new energy technologies that will be every bit as abundant, intense and powerful as oil and coal. And I think about the fact that San Diego just suffered a massive failure of its power grid, when temperatures were up around 100 degrees and the AC was going full tilt.

We’re told that stress on the system didn’t cause the blackout in this case. Apparently, some technician working on a transmission line pushed the wrong button. But it could have been stress, which caused the rolling blackouts in California ten years ago.

In the days prior to air-conditioning, when the weather was hot, we just got hot, and we slowed down. Was that so unreasonable? Am I being puritanical?

Calling people “addicted” to comfort is silly. It’s not an addiction; it’s just what people want. And if we can keep people comfortable that’s okay with me. I just wonder how big a price we’ll have to pay.

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