The New York Times Enlists in the War on 'Sexist' Air Conditioning. The Internet Isn't Having It.
Shortly before the Fourth of July, The New York Times published an op-ed attacking air conditioning as unnecessary, contributing to global warming, and oppressive. Taylor Lorenz, a staff writer at The Atlantic took up the call, calling air conditioning itself "unhealthy, bad, miserable, and sexist." She called for a ban on air conditioning in general, and the internet rushed to defend the technology.
"Air-conditioning is unhealthy, bad, miserable, and sexist. I can’t explain how many times I’ve gotten sick over the summer b/c of overzealous AC in offices," Lorenz tweeted, adding "ban A/C."
The New York Times's Penelope Green begins her article recounting the invention of air conditioning, lamenting, "And in that moment (well, within a few decades), entire industries and geographies were transformed, and new technologies made possible, including, terribly, the internet: Without cooling, there would be no server farms."
She also connects the need for air conditioning to climate change. "On an overheated planet, air-conditioning becomes more and more desirable, solving in the short term the problem it helped create."
As for the sexism claim, Green cites a Nature.com study finding that building temperatures were set to the comfort preferences of 1960s-era men in suits and disregards the "thermal comfort" of female staffers. Ironically, she also predicted Lorenz's tweet. "Come summer, Twitter invariably lights up with charges that air-conditioning is sexist, an engine of the patriarchy, in threads that in turn fire up conservative commentators eager to prove the daftness of the opposition."
It is true that offices keep air conditioning too strong for the comfort level of many women. Many men also complain that air conditioning is not strong enough. As Green notes, women often wear blankets or even use space heaters to counterbalance excessive air conditioning.
Green's article laments the overuse of air conditioning and dwells on potential alternatives, admitting that the alternatives have failed.
Yet in an interesting aside, she suggests that air conditioning might not be sexist, after all. "It turns out gender is less a predictor of thermal comfort than other factors, like age, activity level or, tellingly, the relative wealth of the society surveyed, according to studies conducted by researchers at the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley."
She concludes her study by suggesting that Americans' discomfort with extreme heat may be a first-world problem.
"People in countries with lower G.D.P.s, said David Lehrer, the communications director and a researcher [at the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California-Berkeley], are more comfortable with a wider range of temperatures. It appears that first world discomfort is a learned behavior," she writes.
This anecdote is hilarious since the complaints against air conditioning are themselves a privilege of the first-world availability of A/C.
Air conditioning fundamentally transformed broad swaths of the country, none more than Florida, which has become the third most populous state in the U.S. and a key swing state. Air conditioning improves the lives of millions. Even though many men may turn up A/C to a level that makes women uncomfortable, that does not make air conditioning bad in and of itself.
Many women have shot down Lorenz's air conditioning ban.
"Taylor you’re awesome but you can pry my air conditioner from my refreshingly chilly dead hands," feminist writer and editor Andi Zeisler tweeted.
Former journalist Wendy Brandes tweeted, "Perimenopause is here, give me the a/c and no one gets hurt." She was referring to the time around menopause, when women experience "hot flashes," and appreciate air conditioning more than normal.
Timeshare CMO Founder Melinda Byerley also shot back against Lorenz, tweeting, "Wait til Menopause."
Australian Herald Sun reporter Rita Panahi responded saying, "[The New York Times] morphing into [the Onion] is hilarious."
Christy Waters, a Twitter user in Atlanta, also shot down Lorenz's suggestion of banning air conditioning. "Ummm yeah, I live in Atlanta where July is usually 95 degrees and 90% humidity," she tweeted. "I'll chance getting 'sick'...Thanks anyway. And to avoid getting sick, instead of banning AC, tell your office maintenance to change the filters. I mean, this isn't rocket science."
NBA, NFL, and fitness blogger Dominique Clare mockingly agreed with Lorenz.
"You are so right. A/C is also racist. I know they make it that cold so I'm not tempted to wear African heritage clothing," he tweeted sarcastically. "It has absolutely nothing to do with setting a comfortable temperature everyone I know also keeps their house at."
Amanda Atwell, a weekend sports anchor in Amarillo, Texas, slammed Lorenz for being out of touch with those who struggle in hot climates. "Imma go ahead and make a safe assumption this gal does not live in Texas/the South. Please DO NOT [Ban A/C] in my office when the heat indexes are 100+ outside I’ll take bringing a sweater over sweating at work," she tweeted.
Even transgender activists were not having it. Zinnia Jones tweeted, "[Ban A/C]? Pfffff I live in Florida and what the hell is this."
National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke tweeted about the "Ban A/C" hashtag. "[Ban A/C]? I spent the summer of 2003 in France. There was a heatwave. I saw some of the consequences with my own eyes. Nearly 15,000 people died. per the NIH," he tweeted.
Casey Mattox, senior fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, shared the Wikipedia entry for Willis Carrier, the man who invented air conditioning. "This man is a hero," Mattox tweeted.
Air conditioning is one of the great blessings of modern life, making extremely hot locations bearable for living and working. Many buildings may need to turn down the A/C, but opposing air conditioning in general as sexist and calling for "banning" it is little more than a demand to return to a Stone Age standard of living. Thankfully, it seems most of the people tweeting about this absurd idea already know that.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.