Alan Kirker


April 30th, 2022 by

Our culture of individuated, managed climates and our desire for absolute control over personal comfort, only recently exacerbated by pandemic circumstances, has us sequestered in homes, cars, and workplaces, even creating artificial worlds within these, and in which our children grow ever more content.

In his exploration of the effects of refrigerants, air-conditioning, and our growing need for constant comfort in his book, “After Cooling” (2021), author Eric Dean Wilson observes that the production of world-altering chlorofluorocarbon and hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants encouraged environments of “constant work, constant comfort, and individual safety within a small, enclosed space, an unwavering investment in personal, individual choice at the expense of the long-term comfort and safety of the general public” (2021, p. 293).

Apart from the greenhouse gases created by the outlawed CFC and newer HFC refrigerant variants, with “a global warming potential 1300 times that of carbon dioxide” (2021, p. 291), Wilson states our air-conditioned lifestyles mirror more deeply a corresponding social upheaval from communal street neighbourhoods and front porch socializing to withdrawn self-pursuit and privacy. Does this in turn spell a waning concern for Nature; seeing her either as some fearsome, fickle, unpredictable other, or, as akin to our closed spaces themselves, capable of easy technological adjustment ?

Climate “inactivists” according to climate scientist Michael Mann in his book, “The New Climate Wars” (2021), tout “reassuring, plausible-sounding alternative solutions that do not pose a threat to the fossil fuel juggernaut” (2021 p. 146). These include “clean coal”, “bridge fuels”, and “geoengineering”. One example of the latter; injecting sulfates into the stratosphere to induce restorative climate change, despite its promises, according to proponent David Keith in his book, “A Case for Climate Engineering” (2013), will nonetheless “contribute to air pollution”, “likely increase damage to the ozone layer”, and even in the best case “will make some regions worse off, perhaps by increasing drought” (p. 10, 11). Given the recent increase in extreme weather associated with climate change, does such an approach not carry even greater risk, given what we are now learning about the implications of perturbing vast, complex natural systems?

In terms of meaningful action on climate change, Mann argues that both individual efforts as well as top-down regulation and policy are needed. However, he states that we should not think “our duty is done when you recycle your bottles or ride your bike to work. We cannot solve this problem without deep, systemic change” (2021, p. 97):

“Personal actions, from going vegan to avoiding flying, are increasingly touted as the primary solution to the climate crisis. Though these actions are worth taking, a fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters responsible. In fact, one recent study suggests that an emphasis on small personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate policies needed” (2021, p. 3).

Keith, D. (2013) A Case for Climate Engineering. Cambridge, United States: Boston Review – The MIT Press

Mann, M. (2021) The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back the Planet. New York, United States: PublicAffairs – Hachette Book Group

Wilson, E. D. (2021) After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort. New York, United States: Simon & Schuster


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