The leftist critique of capitalism and all the improvements in the quality of life that it has brought remains what it has always been: the desire of intellectuals to dictate to the rest of humanity how they may live. Or even more to the point, how many of them may live at all. Thus, the latest New York Times feature about the evils of air conditioning and how the increasing demand for it in the Third World is unsustainable tells us a lot more about the left and its mindset than it does about the future of society.
The piece in the Sunday Review by Elisabeth Rosenthal at least is honest about why more air conditioning is needed. It is a major factor in productivity around the world. The economic boom in places like Singapore and other warm-weather cities was made possible in no small measure by air conditioning. As population growth and economic activity rises in other Third World cities, more AC will be needed. But for the Times, this spells environmental doom since they tell us the energy used to run the units and the emissions from the coolants will create more global warming. The answer from the left to this conundrum is typical of the sort of eco-Luddite argument we’ve been hearing for decades. People will have to learn to live without air conditioning in the same way they are told to live without the freedom that automobiles give them. Sweat more and shut up about it seems to be the mantra. But the problem with this sort of thinking is not just the arrogance of western liberals telling people to do without modern conveniences; it is that it reflects a lack of understanding of human potential.