Air conditioning—or the lack thereof—emerges as a major cultural difference between the United States and Europe in a recent feature article in the Washington Post.
While the U.S. is the world leader in climate control, and demand for air conditioning is on the rise, “it’s safe to say that Europe thinks America’s love of air conditioning is actually quite daft,” the Post reports.
“According to Stan Cox, a researcher who has spent years studying indoor climate controlling, the United States consumes more energy for air conditioning than any other country,” Noack writes. “In many parts of the world, a lack in economic development might be to blame for a widespread absence of air conditioning at the moment. However, that doesn’t explain why even most Europeans ridicule Americans for their love of cooling and lack of heat tolerance.”
Cox told the Post the U.S. “is somewhat unusual in being a wealthy nation, much of whose population lives in very warm, humid regions.” But the difference is also a matter of temperature preferences.
“Americans tend to keep their thermostats at the same temperature all year around,” said the University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak. “In contrast, Europeans tend to set their thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter. Consequently, while indoors, Europeans wear sweaters in winter, while Americans wear sweaters in summer.”
Noack also points to a difference in climate change awareness. In a survey last year, “two-thirds of all EU citizens said that economies should be transformed in an environmentally-friendly manner,” he writes. “Cooling uses much more energy than heating, which is why many Europeans prefer sweating for a few days over continuously suffering under the effects of global warming in the future.”
Regulations are a factor, as well: the EU mandates tougher energy efficiency standards that compel builders to pump cold air from underground, or make walls more resistant to outdoor temperatures.