Air conditioning: luxury or necessity?

Even though it is almost the 21st Century, and air conditioning has been around in one form or another since the 1930s, one still hears and reads people talking about air conditioning as if it is a luxury. Not just a luxury but a wasteful and coddling luxury that we would probably be better off without. And I haven’t heard this view solely from older people who grew up without A/C, so it’s not just a “when I was a child, we didn’t have…” thing.

On the other hand, while the most common argument against air conditions is that “people didn’t die before we had air conditioning,” how about the various deaths (hundreds a few years ago here in Chicago!) that are at least partly attributable to “heat waves”? Without the statistics, I’m just surmising, but I would guess that heat deaths occurred in large numbers in pre-A/C heat waves but were not news because they were considered unavoidable “facts of life” or were chalked up to “old age.” (As if old age is ipso facto a cause of death!)

So my view is:

  1. Something that people die without sure sounds like me to be a necessity.
  2. People dying from diabetes before insulin or infections before penicillin (sp?) were also considered unavoidable facts of life.

Of course air conditioning is not a necessity in the absolute sense of food, water, and shelter. But, at least to me, it seems to be a necessity to the same degree that indoor plumbing, heating, and electricity are necessities.

So what do you think?

I live in Houston, Texas. It was 105 last Friday. What do you think?

Air conditioning is a luxury by all standards…yes people die without it some cases, but should poor people be provided with it at our cost…absolutely not!

Some form of coolness in hot weather is a necessity. However, a spritz of water or a fan are cheaper alternatives to owning an air conditioner. They might not be as effective in cooling one off, but I doubt anyone using these methods rather than air conditioning will die of heat stroke.

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

Whether it’s a luxury or a necessity depends on the person. I have severe asthma, and for me, A/C is a necessity. So much so that when mine goes out, I have to move into a hotel. Either that, or move into the hospital.

Before the advent of air conditioning, people built their homes in ways that fended off the stifling heat of summer.

I grew up in San Antonio. Nearly every summer we were hauling relatives to the Alamo. My impression is that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas would dance naked for nickels before they let anyone touch a stone on that building, so IIRC, there is no airconditioning, and doesn’t need any.

The thick stone walls, high ceilings and other attributes keep it nice and cool even during blazing south Texas summers.

“I’m surprised that you’ve never been told before, that you’re lovely, that you’re perfect, and that somebody wants you.” - Semisonic, f.n.p

My first two years of college (in Virginia, and the school year started in mid-August) were totally un-air-conditioned, and it wasn’t as bad as you might think. The initial adjustment was bad, but I’d get used to it after a few days. (Fans helped.) My roommate and I have AC now, but we don’t turn it on NEARLY as high as most businesses do. I think AC is nice, but it’s way overused, especially here in the South. (I guess people are trying to compensate for the miserable weather outdoors, but going from 100 degrees to 60 when you walk into a restaurant is no fun either …)

I read in a medical article – sorry, forget source – that it took about two weeks for human body to acclimatize to no A/C after having been used to it. The health risks are much higher during those two weeks. In other words, if you vacation in the tropics with no A/C for two weeks, you’ll start to become comfortable about the same time you have to leave.

Obviously, you’ve never lived in Arizona in August. Here, and in other God-forsaken, hellish places (like Houston perhaps), AC is a NECESSITY.


For me, AC is a luxury that became a necessity this summer. I’m quite pregnant, and due in October. This heat wave, with the ungodly humidity, was making my hands & feet swell so badly I almost couldn’t function. Got a small window AC, and things have been much better. I do see it as more of a luxury (for me) than anything else, though. My grandparents used to live in the desert outside of Las Vegas–it was a necessity there.

You people are soft, soft, soft! At the risk of offending nearly everyone, I must say that American’s seem to have lost the ability to distinguish necessity from luxury. The vast majority of the population of the entire planet lives without many things we Americans consider necessities. Talk to me when you don’t have medicine, adequate food or housing.

A/C. Sheesh!

“I think it would be a great idea” Mohandas Ghandi’s answer when asked what he thought of Western civilization

Many people don’t like the saying “It’s not the heat - it’s the humidity!”, but the fact is that it’s often true. A hot dry day is less uncomfortable than the same temperature on a humid day.

This demonstrates a problem with the whole OP question, because air conditioners serve two functions: they both cool the air and also dry it out. I bet that if someone would invent a dehumidifier that works as efficiently as an air conditioner does, they would sell quite well.

Umm, Lucky, I did address this in my original posting. I stated that air conditioning is not a biological necessity. Of course, people all over the world live without sinks, toilets, electric lights, or radiators.

However, we’re talking about Americans, or the First World to be correct. In the First World, indoor plumbing, electricity, and heating (in cold climates) ARE considered relative necessities, and not just by people who are “soft” or foppish. If a person lives in a building with no plumbing, or no electricity, or no heating, they are considered EXTREMELY poor (throughout the First World, not just in the USA). Heck, a landlord who rented apartments in a building with non-existent or inoperative plumbing, heating, or lighting would be in clear violation of the law in almost any city in the First World.

My question is whether air conditioning fits into that category, not whether human life is possible without it.

I am one of those cheap skates who never had air conditioning in a car-until this summer. In summers past, I could usually drive in comfort by keeping the windows down…but this summer was a killer! In July (I live near Boston) we had days on end in the high 90’s, with 100% humidity. I can talke the heat, but high humidity kills me.
Anyway, I broke down a got a car with A/C! Best move I ever made! A side benefit-you can avoid the noise with the windows closed.
I would say A/C, in a car, is a Necessity!

Air conditioning is a luxury by all standards…yes people die without it some cases, but should poor people be provided with it at our cost…absolutely not!

Jen, just for the record: it is my sincere wish that someday God comes along and bitch-slaps your smug, self-satisfied, bourgeois honky ass. Perhaps with a debilitating illness which your medical insurer will not cover and that drives you into hopeless poverty. Or a business downturn that leaves you & yours living out of your car. I’ve been following your postings across the various boards for only about a week, and I can say with absolute certainty that they never reflect ANYTHING but the most damnable self-centeredness and mean-spiritedness. Did John’s OP say anything about providing A/C for the poor? NO. But you can’t let an opportunity for showing your ass go by, can you? And I’ll just bet you think of yourself as a pretty good Christian, too, hah? You got a real come-uppance due you, woman.

P.S. And by the way, these are the opinions of a middle-aged white male.

Well, DIF, the government is alloting money for AC for poor folks. I don’t thing Jen was too far out of line.

And if she was disabled and incapable of earning a living, that would be very different than being healthy and choosing not to work. Why is she automatically labled a self-centered bitch just because she believes in personal responsibiliy and is not a socialist?

That said, I haven’t had air condiditoning in my house for 8 years. It gets a little bit uncomfortable, but it is not that bad. I do use it in my car because of bad asthma.

To my knowledge the government is not offering to pay for my AC despite my disability.


Didn’t mean to get you all in an uproar. My point was that considering A/C even a “relative necessity” (perceived necessity, perhaps?) cracks me up and, IMHO, speaks volumes about the American mindset. And I do mean American. I haven’t yet run across this type of thinking in Europeans.

Please understand I am not trying to berate you for asking the question. The whole thing just struck me as absolutely hysterical.

“I think it would be a great idea” Mohandas Ghandi’s answer when asked what he thought of Western civilization

no offense, but where do you live?
I don’t think air conditioning is a necessity for most of the country, but in the desert areas like Arizona or Nevada it becomes one.
Now, Europeans might not have similar complaints, but do they have tempatures that get up to the 120s on a regular basis?


Put me down for “luxury”. (Except in those cases where a person’s health is dependent on one.)

Living in Arizona, New Mexico, or in the middle of the Sahara Desert are not excuses, unless you are being forced to live there. Otherwise, you can always leave. (“If you can’t stand the heat…”) The human race survived for millenia without AC, and we still can. Just not as comfortably.

luxury – 3. a: something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary. b: an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease. (emphasis mine)

necessity – 2. b: physical or moral compulsion.

Looking at this and the definition of “necessary” seems to leave loopholes for something being a necessity if it involves something that you are used to having. Still, the connotation is that something must be absolutely required.

Well, if we are sticking to strict dictionary definitions, running water is a luxury, electricity is a luxury…

Neither of these are an absoloute necessity.
But, I think that in areas where the conditions are sufficiently hot air conditioning becomes as vital as these two things. Especially for older folks, which the OP mentioned.

Now, I count myself as a lucky one who lives in a place where I haven’t needed air condtioning since I moved here.