Casual and chill

Mark it zero? Or 78?

Mark it zero? Or 78?

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Here in the Sacramento Valley, we live as refugees, forever trudging from one air-conditioned area to the next—to the next, to the next. On a warm day, you climb in the car and start the air conditioner. Pull up to work, move quickly through the morning heat into the air-conditioned office. At noon, go outside briefly—walk brisk, before your body notices it’s hot out there—into the air-conditioned car then into the air-conditioned restaurant. Back to the air-conditioned office until the air-conditioned commute to the air-conditioned home. On a really hot day—rare as they have been this summer—the air conditioning is on into the night.

Of course, there are those odd ducks that don’t have air conditioning. Auntie Ruth finds it charming when San Franciscans bemoan as brutal a stretch of 90 degree days. It’s like the East Coast mistaking 5.8 for a real earthquake.

Auntie Ruth used to be hardcore, used to ride a bike to work in 100 degree heat. No longer, long story. Suffice it to say she didn’t ride fast enough to work up a compelling breeze.

All this air conditioning raises the point: Why do we need to be this cold? What’s the cost?

Let’s stick to the car for a moment. Slate Magazine’s Green Lantern notes that an active car AC can cut fuel economy anywhere from three to 20 percent (in brutal outdoor heat). Roll down the windows? That’s fine on the streets, but having the windows down on the highway creates more drag on the car. You actually end up using more gas than if you kept the AC on!

What about office buildings? The Energy Star program notes that with every degree you turn up the programmable thermostat of a central air-conditioning system, you can yield a 6 percent savings in energy used. Seventy-eight degrees is a good beginning—too hot for you? The New York Times reports the Italian energy company Eni has turned up the thermostat and allows workers to wear lighter casual clothes rather than suits. Japan did the same with its government buildings in 2005, calculating that, in 2006, it saved in carbon emissions the same amount that 2.5 million homes emitted in a typical month.

Never mind Casual Fridays. What would it take for the city of Sacramento to usher in a summer tradition of The Casual Workweek?