McArdle (and the Pope) on air conditioning
By Alberto Mingardi
Megan McArdle has a most enjoyable piece on air conditioning. It is true that when we Europeans are traveling, sometimes it is more difficult to “adjust” to air conditioning than to the time zone. We have the impression that Americans like their buildings to be chilly in the summer, and comfortably hot in the winter. While we may appreciate this as a formidable victory of Man over natural difficulties, we are used to putting on our jackets when we walk outside, not inside buildings. McArdle explains well how these cultural differences have little to do with climate moralism, and more with average summer temperature. A case in point: in a very hot summer like the current one, I know lots of people who would be happy to “Americanise” and pump their A-C even in Milan.
McArdle’s piece reminded me of Pope Bergoglio’s condemnation of air conditioning. More specifically, Bergoglio thinks A-C is the quintessential example of a need induced by market forces (i.e. companies that spend big on advertising) and not by genuine necessity.
The Pope wrote:
People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.
Of course what is staggering here is the deeply-rooted (do you remember Vance Packard’s “Hidden Persuaders?”) notion that businesses can easily manipulate the behaviour of millions of people – in this case, the millions of people that use air-conditioning. It seems to me that this has to do with the idea that money may translate into power over people’s lives. That might be the case, if the Pope had accused air-conditioning devices’ producers to be lobbying for, say, a lax policy over climate change, so that we all of us can feel hotter and thus buy more of their products. No, here the problem is different. The problem is to believe that it is more likely that advertising is changing the behaviour of millions of people, rather than just assuming that they do what they genuinely believe it is best for them. It seems to be a tremendously demeaning vision of the human person.