Please turn on the air conditionerThe temperature in Phoenix, Arizona on July 10 was over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). But LA Dodgers pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin was wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt in the dugout. The broadcasters reported that the removable roof and air conditioning system kept the field comfortably cool.
The peak temperature in Phoenix this summer was 48.3 degrees Celsius. Las Vegas, Nevada hit 46 degree Celsius, and on June 29, a man was found dead in his home in Las Vegas. The cause of death was air conditioning malfunction.
American writer and cultural critic Rebecca Solnit claims in her book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” that Las Vegas was built in the sizzling desert thanks to the invention of air conditioning. In 1931, gambling was legalized in Nevada and hotels were built in Las Vegas.
Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said that humanity’s greatest invention is the air conditioner. In fact, air conditioning created a totally new culture and helped buid a developed country with a per-capita GDP of $50,000. If you’re visiting the tropical nation of Singapore, make sure that you just bring a sweatshirt like Ryu Hyun-jin.
However, in Korea, we are obsessed with using our air conditioners as little as possible. Subway commuters need to wait on the platform with hardly any climate control. It’s been reported that classroom temperatures during the final exam period at middle and high schools was around 30 degrees.
The optimum temperature for brain activity is 18 degrees, and efficiency begins to drop if the temperature goes over 21. A high school principal told me, “When it’s raining, I feel much better on my way to school as it will still be cool without the air conditioning system.”
Last week, the president summoned her secretaries and told them, “I go without air conditioning.” The temperature inside the Blue House was once over 35, and Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg struggled when he visited in a suit and tie.
The need to save energy is not new in Korea; we used to do so to focus available power on industrial development since the country produces no petroleum. We’ve all become familiar with calculating how much it would cost to restart a blast furnace if it stops in a blackout. Naturally, the industrial electricity rate is far cheaper than residential energy.
It’s about time that we break away from this lack of imagination with regards to air conditioning.
As we feel these days, Korea is becoming subtropical. The creative economy that will change the quality of productivity in this environment may be triggered by air conditioning. And maybe it’ll help someone come up with a way to battle the negative environmental effects of air conditioning as well.
*The author is a political and international news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By KANG IN-SIK