The NYT powers that be made an extraordinarily savvy decision to publish an article about the environmental implications of the rising use of air conditioners around the world. The average urbanite in a temperate climate regards nature as something that gives us autumn leaves and farmers markets, while occasionally remembering that somewhere, someone is doing something to threaten our lovely seasonal ramps. Reminders of humanity’s defenselessness do not come in daily reminders; I have no need to shake my slippers for scorpions, nor do I have to go to sleep listening to the mating squeaks of the geckos running amok on my ceiling. (Much love to my equatorial countries.) Today’s heat, however, was a lovely reminder to those waiting on subway platforms that nature is very capable of killing you if it so desires - whether with heat, water, BO, or general anxiety.
Nature - we all care about it. And if not that, then we all care about the little ones (who did not ask to be born, by the way!) that are going to grow up and live in. Ideally it should be one with water and food and minimal exposure to things that cause tumors to grow on your face.
This article, however, reflective of the reason why “the third world” distrusts the West, and even the most innocuous of desires (environmental stewardship) becomes a politicized topic that flares up years of resentment and geopolitical tensions. From the point of the view of the West, the article is a neutral acknowledgement of a growing trend and the problems it poses: standards of living are rising globally, consumption of resources is increasing, and global warming has reached a crisis point. From an alternate perspective, this article smacks of paternalistic criticism; as in so many other instances, a problem initially established by Western patterns of thinking and shaped by Western policy is being blamed yet again on the striving, dirty brown masses of the developing world. While I’m sure the majority of NYT readers like to think of themselves as enlightened, public-transit, bottle-recycling apartment dwellers, the average American’s standards of living are vastly different. The housing crisis was brought on in part by our expectations that a family on $40,000 be entitled to a 10,000 sq ft. faux-colonial house with a big green lawn. A quick viewing into the crappy lives of the MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” teenagers reveals, for the most part, that material possessions and homes in America appear to not clearly be tied to actual economic circumstance. The vast majority of the lower middle class segments in America manage to live in giant, generic giant tract houses cooled by no less than however many BTU’s of air conditioning. We do not examine their consumption. Neither do we examine the consumption habits of the middle class, and forget those at Romney echelons of wealth. When we, as a country, continue to worship at the house of the Kardashians, with their giant mega-mansions and SVU’s, and continue to export our images of big, air conditioned houses with big, air-conditioned cars idling in the driveway through our films and entertainment, who are we to say: No, these things are only for us? Who are we to deny others the lifestyle that we continue to pursue? Who are we to pass judgement on others that have sought to emulate an example set by the United States for over half a century?
The environmental crisis can only be solved by extensive global cooperation; but that can happen only with true leadership from those driving change. The world’s wealthiest 16% of the population consume 80% of the world’s resources. The average US citizen consumes 25 tons of raw materials a year. The world - the brown, the populous, the oppressed, the poor - will continue to grow at the pace the West has set for it - and until we turn off our air conditioners, move out of our mansions, and leave our cars in the garage - they will only continue to reach for the standards that we’ve set.