Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Be cool, stay in school

As we are now living through the hottest year on record, I wonder how teachers and education leaders across the country are (or aren't) reflecting on what lessons they need to incorporate into their classes. It's all too easy, especially if you don't see the school's electric bill, to just crank on the A/C (assuming you have that option) and just forget about the huge amount of coal burning it requires to power these energy intensive machines.

Stan Cox's recent book Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World confronts the fact that the US now spends more money cooling our homes than heating them. I observe this trend of individual acclimatization to cooler indoor temperatures with dismay it seems many people I know can hardly tolerate sitting in a room during summer time that is warmer that 75%; nary a business would fathom turning up the thermostat above 68%; and public transportation, if the devices are working, blast the A/C so high that my sweat from outside evaporates into a chill.

I'd like to see schools take this issue on, as an opportunity to accomplish a number of goals: keep classrooms cooler without A/C, and explicitly teaching students how it is done; reduce energy costs and thus save money; use energy use within the classroom as a teachable moment that connects the earth science, engineering, economics, and ethics.

How do we do this? Well for starters, I'll share an excerpt from an email I got from a company called "Vivaterra" that I once bought a bamboo floor mat from. It's a great list to help with summer living and who knows? Maybe for lesson planning?

"Chill Outside
- Freeze grapes, blueberries or chunks of juicy watermelon and set them out in a bowl for cooling nibbles.
- Drink lots of chilled beverages like lemonade or sun tea.
- Avoid using the oven or stove: think salads, cold soups, or snack food that can be eaten room temperature.
- Dine alfresco or picnic in the backyard for every meal including breakfast—it feels festive, too.
- Camp in your own backyard for fresh air dreams.

Shady Behavior
- Keep windows & window coverings closed during the day.
- In the evening, create a cross current with open windows and doors to catch the breeze.
- Or, as a more extreme measure, hang wet sheets over your open windows at night to create natural air-conditioning.
- Re-visit the lost art of porch sitting in the evening.
- Plant trees around your house: the shade trees offer reduces the amount of energy needed to cool off your home by as much as 50%.
- Replace incandescent lights with CFLs that emit less heat.

Sweet Siestas
- Take afternoon naps on the weekend and stay up late to enjoy the cooler evening air outdoors.
- Take a cool shower and get into bed on a towel without drying off; the moisture evaporates and cools you down as you drift off to sleep.
- Choose breathable bamboo sheets that wick away moisture and are cool to the touch.
- Mist your bed linens and spritz yourself with a spray bottle filled with soothing lavender water; keep it handy for late night tossing and turning.

Keep Your Inner Cool
- Don’t expend a lot of your personal energy.
- Stay cool when you’re stressed with meditation.
- Keep the peace by avoiding needless “hot air” arguments.

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