As I sit here and type the outside thermometer reads 93 degrees and the indoor…74.
Actually the thermostat is currently set to 78 degrees because as I did more research for this blogpost, I (re)learned that the official Energy.gov recommendation for daily AC use in the summer is 78 degrees. Fahrenheit.
Yes, you read that correctly.
For the past month Aaron and I have been enjoying a balmy 74 degrees indoors with only a little complaining, mostly from me at night. His encouragement kept us on track, however, and here we are sort of willing to punch the thermostat up a few more degrees.
Maybe you’re wondering (as I was last night) why the heck our thermostat climbs with the summer temperature. Well, I’ll blame it on the pope.
A few summers ago Pope Francis wrote an encyclical to all “people of good will” (62) on “care for our common home”—Laudato Si, a 246-paragraph letter about climate change, consumerism, and the ecological crisis.
I began my first year of divinity school a few months later and the encyclical was assigned in all but one of my classes (Intro to New Testament seemed like a stretch, I guess). We studied this breaking historical document from every direction and discussed it over and over. Many of us, ye though hooded Masters of Divinity two Saturdays ago, are still talking about it.
It's just that kind of letter: direct, loving, respectful, and come-to-Jesus.
What I am stuck on right now is the letter’s very practical instruction and claim on my day-to-day living.
Pope Francis names an “ecological debt” that the global north owes to the global south (51-55).
Driven by commerce, richer countries and companies infiltrate other countries, rape its resources, and then high-tail it out of there with no thought of their mess. This mess leaves entire countries, but especially its poor, in duress—sick soil cannot give food, toxic air cannot sustain babies’ lungs, and fracked mountains cannot bear the prayers of their people.
Profit drives all manner of evil.
And, as I sit securely, sip clean water in our air-conditioned parsonage, and tap on a fairly up-to-date computer, I am eerily aware of how much those shadowed profits have benefited me. I realize how those stolen minerals, ripped-off resources, and externalized costs to my siblings in other parts of the world have cushioned my existence.
Their pain, loss of livelihood, and our global climate crisis sits at my feet. I did not directly cause these enormous wicked problems, but, as Papa Francis helps me see, I am able to respond—I am CALLED to respond—to this injustice.
In Laudato Si Pope Francis declares that “developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development…” (52).
Essentially, those countries, corporations, and brackets of peoples who so helped cause climate change—wittingly or unwittingly—have an intrinsic responsibility to do something about it.
“We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities,” he says (52). The road to holistic healing and well-being for the global community will be fair, but it will not be equal. It will be fair as it brings down the powerful from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly; filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53).
Which might just look like “roughing it” at 78 degrees during a Dallas summer.
“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.” (55)
Of course, the Vatican is air-conditioned. But I do not think an abolition of AC is the pope’s goal. Rather, his invitation is to an awareness of how our habits of consumption end up consuming our neighbors—human and otherwise.
When I started researching this air-conditioning conundrum I found, as I mentioned above, that the official recommendation for daily thermostat settings in the summer by US government authorities is 78 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not for when the house is empty. 78 degrees is the setting for summer for life at home. In fact, they recommend moving the temperature up 6-10 degrees if the house will be empty for 6-8 hours for greater energy and financial savings.
Pope Francis’ words make me willing to make some changes to my life. I need to be willing to sweat a little if it means that collectively and over time my family in South America or cousins in Cape Town might have a better life. I owe it to them.
AC is not the devil. But it is an energy appliance that is majorly taken for granted. It is abused. But the gospel invitation, as always, is to a deeper awareness of our relationship with our neighbors—human and otherwise—and how our habits impact their well-being.
Making the adjustment:
Ask God to help you adjust body and soul to this new boundary. Pray for creativity and leadership when it comes to shaping your home into a comfortable place that does not borrow from future generations. Ask for the strength and the grace for today that you need to embrace a new normal—new limits for the betterment of the common good.
Start with a few degrees.
My jaw still hits the floor when I read that the AC energy officials recommend 78 degrees for daily in-home temperatures. But we are making a step forward. Don’t let perfection get in the way of making incremental changes for good.
Embrace the breeze—enter the humble fan!
The bedrooms have ceiling fans and we have a happy box fan that travels between the kitchen and the den as we have need. Just remember that breeze cools bodies, not rooms; fans do not actually decrease the temperature in a room. Only run a fan when there’s a body to enjoy it!
Is there a shady spot nearby that’s just begging for a picnic? A swimming hole calling your name? Get out there and have some fun (and relief!).
Eat for the heat.
Is today the day for gazpacho? Ice cream? Cool chicken salad? Chilled watermelon?? I think so, my friend. Find refreshing foods that just say summer and enjoy.
Change your clothes.
Synthetic materials trap heat and sweat. Switch to cottons and such in lighter colors to keep you cool.
(PS: The sweet fan pictured above is a timely gift from my friend Mrs. Barbara Peterson, the librarian at our church, Wilshire Baptist. She brought it back from South Korea this month where she and her late husband were honored as the folk freedom heros that they are. You can find some of the story through her son's blog here.)
Address hidden heaters:
Passive solar energy comes through windows and gets caught in your home. Use blinds and curtains to block.
Hot water heaters obviously have to heat up in order to work. Use cold water as much as you can to make less work for the heater.
Clothes dryers warm up homes and use a ton of energy. Switch to a clothesline or clothes rack. Silver lining: laundry dries quick in the summer heat!
Ovens heat more than that frozen pizza! Try crafting a summer kitchen of sorts this season, inside or out. Use a grill, crock pot, or even a toaster oven for a cooler meal prep experience. (In the photo above I'm roasting almonds in our toaster oven instead of keeping the large oven fired for such a long time.)