Post-Air-Conditioning Futures and the Climate Unconscious
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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A taken-for-granted benefit of living in the belly of American late capitalism is the convenience and comfort of an air-conditioned environment. My essay title is meant to conjure an image of one of the more banal and quotidian absences in a possible climate-changed future, in which some of those aspects of what passes for modern life can no longer be assumed. I want to call attention to what this technology has meant for everyday life in the USA, both literally and as a signifier of what could change in a post-energy-transition future in which summers will be hotter and electricity more expensive. Air conditioning also makes for an appropriate symbol of elided global inequality that ground critiques of the totalizing conception of human agency that is causing climate change, the ‘anthro’ in Anthropocene. As a recent long-form article in the Guardian points out, most of those who enjoy the conveniences of air conditioning today live in parts of the world that emit far greater quantities of carbon than less-developed countries. The latter unsurprisingly suffer more from the effects of that distant consumption as the ferocity of heat waves increase, causing higher numbers of casualties among people who cannot afford air conditioning.1 My arguments here will draw on existing scholarship in the environmental humanities to illustrate the ways in which film and television studies can benefit from and contribute to the pressing need to think through the current climate crisis using all disciplinary tools available. In this short essay I outline the viewing strategies that can develop via an exploration of the seemingly banal and everyday experience of sweating in the absence of what used to be called ‘indoor climate control’, or air conditioning.