Comfort

Thus far, I have resisted the temptation to turn on the heat, opting instead to cope with the moderate discomfort of too cool temperatures by wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt in the house. This morning, the indoors temperature is 66 degrees, a couple of degrees cooler than yesterday, despite the fact that the outdoors temperature is considerably warmer than yesterday. I suspect houses retain heat for quite a while, regardless of cooling outside temperatures, but over time the retained heat escapes. That’s my explanation, anyway, for the cooler inside air in the face of warmer outside air. If today were to be sunny, I suspect the indoors temperature would rise considerably, and quickly; but the forecast is for clouds. So, my question to myself: should I turn on the heat, or should I continue to cope? At the moment, my answer is that I will continue to cope. No point in wasting energy when I can be reasonably comfortable in lounging attire. Of course, when I take a shower, my attitude may change; I will wish for a bathroom heater for a while, I imagine.

A few degrees one way or the other should not command so much of my attention. Before the age of HVAC systems, people dealt with the vagaries of weather without pushing buttons or turning dials. Their options in relatively recent times might have included decisions about opening or closing windows or vents, turning fans on or off, putting a log on the fire (or not), and adding or discarding layers of clothes. I think it pays to remember that modern conveniences are not necessities. Overreliance on conveniences tends to rob us of our ability to deal creatively with our environment. And that reliance tends to involve using vast amounts of nonrenewable energy. I wonder how much energy might be saved if every household in the USA took a one-week sabbatical from using energy sources with which we have become so comfortable and on which we rely: no driving, no electricity, no HVAC systems…okay, I’ll allow refrigeration for food…and so forth? Unfortunately, we will never know with certainty because most of us would be unwilling to put up with the inconvenience. Unless forced to by natural disaster or some other such calamity.

But IF we were to go for a week without using power, what would it reveal about us? That we are soft, demanding whiners? That we have the capacity to understand that convenience and necessity are different? That we can adjust to trying circumstances with grace? That we are not suited for an earlier era of self-reliance or collective support? Who knows? I don’t. I would be interested to find out, though. I have been through lengthy periods without electricity, though it has been many years ago. I coped, then. Would I cope just as well today?

When the air conditioner is in use, we set the thermostat to 78 degrees. We set it at 68 degrees when we turn on the heat. So today’s 66 degrees is only two degrees cooler than “normal.” I should recall, though, that even at 68 degrees we often wear layers or comfortable lounging clothes around the house. And we occasionally turn up the thermostat a degree or two for a short while for the sake of comfort. And we sometimes rely on the fireplace for radiant heat. Obviously the ability to control the temperature in one’s home simply by adjusting a thermostat is a luxury. We should contemplate that more often than we do. We should recognize how incredibly fortunate we are to live in a time and place that such luxuries exist for us.

I think my decision to keep my hands off the thermostat, in spite of wishing I felt warmer, is responsible for this post. I’ve forced myself to acknowledge my reliance on modern technology for comfort. Perhaps I rely on modern technology to define what constitutes a comfortable temperature; would comfort be defined differently if I did not have access to the thermostat? I don’t know. But it’s worth thinking about.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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