March 20, 2017. It’s the first day of spring and a young man’s fancy turns to . . . Well an older man’s fancy turns to summer, and hot weather, and climate change, and my modest proposal to encourage everyone to shut down their AC for a week or so in the dog days of late July or early August.
Here’s my thought. Lots of us believe that the worldwide climate is changing rapidly. Yet our U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and White House are all controlled by people who claim that climate change may not be real, or — if it is — may not be as dire as so many scientists predict. Or they may simply be politicians afraid to acknowledge the issue.
So how can we make our voices heard so that people running for House or Senate in 2018 think that their positions on energy and climate-related issues might actually have a consequence? Writing, calling, or e-mailing elected officials still matters; showing up at town halls has a huge impact.
Here’s my suggestion: During a suitably hot week in the middle of summer (the last week in July or the first week in August, perhaps) all of us show our collective willpower by turning off our air conditioners and living an AC-free life. If enough of us do it, then the power companies might notice that the traditional mid-summer spike in electricity consumption didn’t happen that week. If the power company notices then maybe the media will notice it. And then, maybe, some politicians might notice it and conclude that those climate change believers are actually willing to endure a little discomfort to support their cause rather than just talk about it in the air-conditioned comfort of their homes and offices.
The easiest part will be turning off the AC in your home. I know because I have chosen to live without home air conditioning for the past dozen years and I have survived with an attic fan and a few window fans. The fact is that our parents (or grandparents, depending on how old you are) managed to live and survive and even bring us into the world without air conditioning, which did not become part of the modern lifestyle until the late 1960s, when central air conditioning became commonplace in new homes and window units became affordable for those in older homes.
Even as recently as 1993, only 68 percent of American homes had AC, according to a Department of Energy website. In 2009 the Residential Energy Consumption Survey showed that 87 percent of households had some form of air conditioning.
While air conditioning accounts for only about 6 percent of the average annual household energy bill, in the dog days of July or August the AC is the big draw — so big that some power companies offer a cheaper rate if you give them the clearance to remotely turn off your AC during peak periods. (That seasonal peak will accelerate as the rest of the world gets wealthier and more people demand it.)
The hard part will be getting everyone who believes in the issue to act together. People with health issues and the elderly should be careful about participating. Many offices, including the one in which I work, were built to rely totally on central air conditioning. Forget the fans — the windows won’t even open. But at the office it might be possible to set the thermostat a few degrees higher during AC-free week.
It’s hard, but not impossible. Witness the women’s million-person march on Washington after the inauguration. The women’s march, in turn, has fueled the high turnout of constituents at dozens of congressional town hall meetings held since the inauguration.
That women’s march is still fueling action in many towns, including Princeton, where a group called Princeton Marching Forward continues its activism. Its next meeting: Monday, March 27, when the discussion will be on, yes, climate change. Among the speakers: David Crane, who championed renewable energy during his 12 years as CEO of NRG Inc. To contact this group, which for now only meets in private homes, e-mail email@example.com.
The scientific community is also being heard. On Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, the March for Science will be held in Washington, D.C. The organizer, a University of Texas Health Science Center postdoctoral fellow named Jonathan Berman, calls the march “a demonstration of the widespread public support for the scientific method, the enterprise of science (including science communication and education), and the use of evidence as the basis for good decision-making by our political leaders.”
Borrowing from the women’s march playbook, the March for Science will include ancillary events in other cities. Princeton’s April 22 event will begin with a rally in Hinds Plaza at the public library followed by a march up Witherspoon Street to Nassau Street and then — evoking some powerful imagery — on to Albert Einstein’s former residence at 112 Mercer Street. The event is being planned by the Science & Environment Committee of Princeton Marching Forward — follow it at Princeton4science on Facebook and Instagram, and @pton4science on Twitter.
One week later, April 29, the climate realists will have a march of their own — the People’s Climate March in Washington (with sister marches expected in other cities). The organizers are building on a march held in September, 2014, in New York, with 300,000 people participating. “We planned this march back last fall before the election. Our goal was to move whoever is our president to be big and bold on climate,” said Paul Getsos, a coordinator for People’s Climate Movement, which is organizing the event. “If it was Hillary Clinton, we’d be on the streets on the 29th. We want to hold this administration to account. We don’t want to roll back our climate progress.”
A number of climate realists have pointed out that individual states can take action to reduce their energy footprint.
A coalition called Jersey Renews has just formed, consisting of a broad range of environmental, health, labor unions, and social advocacy groups. Jersey Renews aims to keep the pressure on the state to meet its commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. The coalition has also demanded an implementation plan and commitments to increase New Jersey’s use of renewable energy to 30 percent of its overall supply by 2025, 50 percent by 2035, and 80 percent by 2050.
Earlier this month NJ Future, the public policy research group, issued four recommendations for the next governor. Item three was to incorporate climate risk into decision-making.
The report recommends that the next governor “prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and sea level rise through long-term planning and education about the growing risk of flooding. With the effects of climate change accelerating, New Jersey’s coastal areas could face up to six feet of sea level rise early in the next century.”
That’s a long-term time frame. If you want to think more near-term ponder this finding of the NJ Future report: “At one foot of sea level rise, which could occur as soon as 2030, the barrier beach and back bay communities of the Jersey Shore will be affected, and thousands of New Jersey residents and jobs will be displaced.”
While Trump and his science deniers will be in office for at least four years, New Jersey will be working with a new governor in less than a year. The primary will be Tuesday, June 6.
The race should be heating up by midsummer. Perhaps one or both of the candidates will announce that he or she is ready to stand up to the heat of the issue and show their concern for the climate. They can use my kitchen as the setting for their announcement. I’ll turn the fans on for them.