June 30, 2010

Boulder Bookstore vs. Air Conditioning w/doors open. ~ John Spina

Global Warming? Local Cooling. Boulder Bookstore vs. Air Conditioning w/doors open.

Global Warming has long been a, well, worldwide issue—but, with some notable exceptions, we’ve done little en masse to fight it. It’s a problem for tomorrow, right?

Recently, I had a long conversation with David Bolduc—owner of the Boulder Bookstore, leading local Buddhist, and longtime environmental advocate.  Our conversation began with talking about air conditioners and how many Boulder shops crank their inefficient cooling systems the entire day, all the while leaving their doors wide open, hoping to welcome customers.  Not only is this a waste of energy and money, but also it is something that could be fixed—easily.  The most obvious solution is, of course, shut your doors. But many busiensses fear a loss of business.

David offers a logical and efficient solution, one that he’s used within his huge Pearl Street shop for decades. By switching out a traditional air conditioner with an evaporative system, or swamp cooler, David was able not only to save energy, but also money.  While these swamp coolers do not drop the temperature quite as much as a normal air conditioner, they are much more energy efficient and cost effective. David said, “if you want to talk ecological responsibility, it’s the only way to go if you want cooled air.” However, he went on to say, “Even if people don’t have environmental concerns, [swamp coolers] are cheaper to install and cheaper to maintain…evaporative air (swamp coolers) is probably 5% of the cost of refrigerated air (air conditioners).”

The way these swamp coolers work so effectively is due to a filter medium within the machine.  This filter is made from wood-chips and other organic materials, which is then soaked with tap water.  Once turned on, a fan sucks in the hot air from outside, passes it through this water-soaked filter, and thereby cools the air through the process of evaporation.  Ultimately, this cooled air is then transported through vents in the ceiling and floors, and out the front doors.  This method effectively drops the temperature about 10-11 degrees and, in a climate as dry as ours in Colorado, actually adds moisture and humidity to the air, as well as filters out the pollen and other contaminants.  In addition, because the cold air emitted from swamp coolers is not recycled, as it is within a air conditioning system, the use of swamp coolers allows businesses to cool down their shops while keeping their doors open in order to entice customers.  Nevertheless, getting businesses to switch is not so easy.

If there is so much upside to this alternative system, I asked David, why are they not more widely used?  His answer was that “people want it cool, they don’t see the problem with costing more and wasting energy, the concern is the ease of operation.”  In describing Boulder businesses, David used the term “green wash”, meaning many of these companies who openly support, and actively advertise their eco-friendly practices, are simply providing a lip service and attempting to better sell their brand by riding the wave of environmentalism, not actively devoting their business to environmental practices. In fact, despite all of the “eco-friendly” businesses in boulder, and specifically on the Peal St Mall, David said that his Boulder Book Store and the bookstore’s old location just a few doors down, are the only two buildings that he knows of, which utilize this more efficient method.

At this point our conversation took a very interesting, and somewhat depressing turn, away from air conditioners.  The question was, how much of a difference would it really make if these Boulder businesses did switch to swamp coolers or some other, more efficient method of cooling their buildings?  Unfortunately, David’s response was very little to none.  He said,  “we are past the tipping point” and added, “humans must make drastic changes to their lifestyle, changes which would be a great inconvenience to something [they] are attached to.”  Saving plastic by making smaller bottle caps, using partially recycled materials, or even using swamp coolers rather than an air conditioner, are insignificant adjustments.  There must be hugely radical changes, which David believes will not be made until humanity, and the very lively hood of this earth is at the very brink of destruction, if at all.

In his readings, regarding anthropology as well as environmental degradation, David told me that Earth has experienced a very stable climate over the last couple centuries in comparison with the rest of history, and this ecological consistency has allowed our society to reach such modern and comfortable heights.  However, our developed communities and modern technologies have caused our population to grow exponentially and made them dependent on machines that produce and emit more and more waste, adding only to the deprivation of our situation here on Earth.  We have become so accustomed to the luxuries of our society, whether that be commuting everyday from the suburbs, flying across the country to visit relatives, eating food transported hundred of miles, or even taking long, hot showers in the morning, all of this dramatically add to the spikes at the bottom of this seemingly eminent environmental pitfall.  David compared our situation with that of a hiker whose trail has taken him directly under a boulder teetering on the edge of a hill.  That hiker can either ignore the boulder and keep going, hoping to get clear of the boulder by the time it rolls down the hill, or he can completely alter his route and steer clear of the boulder at all costs, even though the new path may be steeper and more strenuous than his first path.  The question now is, does our modern and lazy society have the strength to completely alter our path?

John Spina currently attends the University of Vermont in Burlington where he will graduate with a double major in history and political science in 2011.  He writes sports for the school paper, the Vermont Cynic, as well as publishes weekly articles in the Mountain Ear, a local Nederland paper, and works as an Intern for the Elephant Journal. He loves spending time doing anything and everything outdoors with his dog, McKinley, and loves being home in Colorado working for the summer.

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