Setting “Comfortable Lows” for Consumption


In a recent op-ed article for The New York Times, Ken Ilgunas describes how, when winter weather arrived, he experimented with the thermostat in his house to find the lowest setting he could tolerate. As it turned out, he found he could cope with the thermostat set at 45 degrees as long as he wore multiple layers of clothing and wrapped himself in a down sleeping bag. While he never actually enjoyed the cold, he eventually adapted to what he called his “comfortable low,” and discovered “that one’s sense of comfort can be redefined with a bit of grit and resourcefulness.”

Well, I don’t bring up Ilgunas’s article to make the point that we all need to set our thermostats to the point where we see our breaths whenever we exhale. I hope things never get so bad—environmentally or economically—that we’re forced to lower our thermostats to 45 degrees. As a matter of fact, part of the reason I argue for cutting consumption a bit in the present is to try to avoid having to cut back a whole lot in the future. (And I don’t know about you, but I’d say setting the thermostat to 45 degrees in winter qualifies as a major cutback.) Ilgunas, himself, argues not that we all adopt his “comfortable low,” but rather that we find our own.

I mention this article because it poses questions that illuminate the connection between individual consumption and environmental degradation. It asks: “If we all set our thermostats to our own ‘comfortable low,’ how many West Virginia mountains could we save? How many fewer wells would need to be fracked? How much less greenhouse gas would we emit?”[1] Those questions are well worth taking some time to consider.


[1] Ilgunas, Ken. “This Cold House.” New York Times. January 24, 2015, p. A19.



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