As I’ve been reporting in some of my previous posts this year, Sweden is having a stunningly beautiful warm summer. Temperatures in the 20s Celsius, mid-70s Farenheit. I think even one day we hit 80°F (about 27°C).
I’ve dug out tank tops and shorts I haven’t worn since living in hot and humid DC — and paired them with a sweater. But hey, for at least a few minutes now and then, I’ve felt a glimmer of summer: that sweaty, hot feeling of being out in the sun and having not much to do. Blissful.
I grew up in California’s Central Valley, and for me, the definition of summer is hot. So hot that you melt when you walk outside, that your bare thighs stick to the plastic seats in your car and that you sleep naked with the windows open and a fan on and you plan your activities for early morning and late evening.
That is not summer in Sweden, not even this summer. Not by a long shot.
And yet, what did I see when I took out the recycling on Monday earlier this week? Evidence that one of my neighbors bought a portable air conditioner, one that you can take from room to room.
My first thought was: “You have got to be kidding me.” Who needs an air conditioner here in Stockholm? That’s ridiculous! The temperatures are nowhere near real heat. The warm weather is amazing. What did I call it earlier in this post? BLISSFUL. Swedes should be outside reveling in this.
But Swedes think this weather is truly hot. Anything approaching 25°C is alarming, to a native Swede, and 30° or 40°C is death. A friend from California visiting in mid-July with her Swedish husband met us for supper at an outdoor café wearing two jackets (yes, two!), and her partner mocked her gently for being cold. He was wearing a light short-sleeved shirt and shorts. She looked at me as if I were crazy, sitting there in a t-shirt and a short skirt in 20°C/70°F. And she’s from San Francisco, which isn’t exactly warm, but it made me realize that I’m on the verge of acclimating to this summer climate.
My second thought on seeing that box in the recycling a few days ago (as temperatures dropped) was about the waste and knock-on impacts of air conditioners in Sweden. The materials required to make these machines that people will run for only a few days a year are more expensive than just moving into the shade or heading down to the cool water’s edge, which Swedes love. It’s not worth tricking out all the cool stone buildings with thick walls that are the norm here; no one has A/C except for the big stores, and it’s not necessary for 363 days of the year, usually.
Now think about the impacts of the electricity needed to run one unit: depending on how efficient the machine is and how long it’s running, it is probably only a tiny dent in the entire Swedish grid (which, admittedly, is pretty efficient and runs half on hydropower and nuclear power, two “clean” forms of energy, though this can be argued because of dam impacts and the dangers of nuclear meltdowns and whatnot). But what if poorly heat-adapted Swedes freak out and buy millions of these machines? Materials, plus energy to run them… plus climate change. This place is going to have warmer days more often in the near future. Its built infrastructure is for cool and cold temperatures. Will Sweden go the way of the air conditioner?
I hope not. Matt can vouch for my dislike of A/C air. I hate it in the car. I hated it when I lived in DC. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Poor Matt. And poor me: should I ever become completely accustomed to this cool weather in summer, I will be doomed to air conditioning for the rest of my days! But at least I can now eat ice cream any time of year.