The Common Good
September/October 2009

Keeping Cool (Gulp!)

by Cathleen Falsani | September/October 2009

“No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than central air.” — The demon Azrael in Kevin Smith’s film Dogma

“No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than central air.” — The demon Azrael in Kevin Smith’s film Dogma

It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. I do, I swear. I’m not one of those people who thinks creation is ours to dominate and its resources ours to spend like found money because Jesus is coming back and the world is going to end soon anyway. I sincerely doubt Christ would be happy about his followers treating Earth as if it were a rental car.

While I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, I am very fond of trees. And, also, the atmosphere.

The thing is ... I love air conditioning. And I hate, haaaaaaaaaaaate being hot.

“Oh, thank you Jesus,” were my first words upon entering our 68-degree oasis with a carload of groceries on a 90-plus degree, muggy summer day where the outside feels like a shvitz or the third ring of Dante’s inferno. Central air conditioning is grace for me.

But what if my blessing is a curse for someone else? Like, say, the rest of the planet? Air conditioning hurts the environment, quaffs energy, and hastens global warming. But is my air conditioner evil? What would Jesus do?

For one thing, Jesus recognized the Jewish kosher laws. A fairly new movement in Judaism today called eco-kashrut (aka “eco-kosher”) expands on the ancient dietary laws to look at what’s kosher in terms of ethical living, fair trade, the ecological concerns involved in food production, consumerism, and lifestyle, including whether to air condition or not.

Is it better to be hot and bothered than cool and complicit in our environmental demise? I turned to a couple of friends who ponder moral dilemmas for a living for help with my AC conundrum.

“It is grace, but there is a price to be paid,” said Al Gini, a philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago and author of several books including Why It’s Hard to Be Good. “The glorious thing for you always has consequences for others.”

So what’s a girl to do, Al? “I think you have to ask some really tough questions,” he said. “There are lots of decisions involved here. Comfort, age, health, and necessity. And at the other end, luxury.

“The global warming effect requires some help for health reasons and for comfort reasons. I think this question is like money. Is money wrong? The answer is no. It’s how you use it.”

I could keep the thermostat at 72 instead of 68. Gini keeps his at 80 and he’s comfortable. But that sounds pretty dang summery to me, and not in a good way.

“Listen, don’t feel bad about it,” Gini said. “There are some things that are ... good in and of themselves and don’t need to be defended.” Yes, but the planet. What about the planet?

“We’ve all made decisions, and your air-conditioning story is just one example of a personal moral crisis that people experience in different parts of their lives about transportation or clothing or coffee or where they work or how they vote,” said my buddy Tom Beaudoin, a professor of practical theology at Fordham University in New York. “There is this creeping sense that they may be able to live with themselves about this issue now, but they may not be able to down the road.

“You and I and anybody of good will—at the end of the day, you have to live with yourself,” he said.

For now, it’s best to live with myself in air conditioning. Even if it’s not quite kosher.

Cathleen Falsani is the author of Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace and blogs at falsani.blogspot.com.

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