It is very rare to have a politician tell people what they do not want to hear. Part of the reason for this is the frenzy that occurs when they do. In turn this explains why there is so little “leadership” in any level of government. You cannot lead when all you do is follow focus groups.
This week Colin Barnett, the premier of Western Australia committed the cardinal sin of telling the truth about air conditioning, that it is a luxury not an essential for everyday life. This was in response to “concerns” being raised about the cost of electricity and people not being able to run air conditioners due to the cost. As usual the government was expected to “do something”.
Figures show that in 1992 only 40% of Perth homes had air conditioning and by 2006 this had risen to 74%. In the 1970s the figure was probably less than 10%. It is estimated that the figure is now 90% and air conditioning accounts for 26% of household power bills. The cost per hour to run a 7.4kW system is, wait for it, $0.51. Yes 51c per hour that the unit is switched on.
For most of human existence there has been no such thing as air conditioning and even one generation ago it was not widespread. The climate has not changed materially since the early 1990’s so what has changed is people’s willingness to put up with the heat.
I will be straight up here. Our house has air conditioning and it is switched on at times. When I was at school there was no air conditioning and somehow I survived.
There are two issues here. Firstly, there is the difference between preference and necessity. Air and water are essential for life. Air conditioning makes life more pleasant but is not essential.
Secondly (and this is the political issue) this whole argument is about cost. Power prices are rising and if people use more power the impact is even greater. Mr. Barnett had the “audacity” to point out that if people did not want to pay for additional comfort they did not have to. He is right.
Of course he has been criticized for being ”out of touch” and “arrogant”.
Like so many issues, which get people hot under the collar, this one is all about choice. If money is tight (and it is for many people) then priorities must be set. If running the air conditioner is important to you then something else might have to go. With the cost of running a unit for a day being the cost of a cup of coffee this may be easier then people think. The question is which is more important to you?
Those with more money can fly at the front of the plane, drive a fancier car and afford to air condition more rooms for longer than those with less money. Everyone can prioritize and budget if it is important enough.
On the same day as this debate raged we learnt of the death of 29 miners in New Zealand. If this does not show how precious many of us have become I wonder what will?
It is time for us to be more grateful for what we have.