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Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

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I’m a fan of keeping cool low-tech. All summer I rely on fans, living right here in St. Louis, where (you may have heard or read this before) my household is not air-conditioned.

This is your cue to GASP. Then please exhale with equal force, so your reaction moves some air around.

Air movement fools a living body into feeling cooler than surrounding air. Moving air doesn’t loosen humidity’s grip, but it does evaporate moisture – sweat – from even super-humid skin. And a breeze generally just feels good.

The U.S. EPA says fans “create a wind chill effect.” I say it’s a psycho-advantage, conjuring the climatic extreme we furless Midwest mammals cope with on the opposite side of the year.

Team up your ceiling fans with the AC to circulate that energy-intensive conditioned air. You can set your thermostat a couple of energy-efficient degrees higher and the energy use added by the fan will probably still total less than mere room refrigeration alone. Especially if you’re equipped with ENERGY STAR rated fans.

Our efficient federal agency pals remind us to switch off the ceiling fan when leaving a room, because it doesn’t change room temperature. The overhead Zephyr cools people, not rooms, chillin’ with a (sustainable) sense of place.

The noble, mobile ancestor of an electric fan will whip you up some DIY comfort, anywhere. Taa-daa! The Basic Hand-Held Fan. This could be a stiff piece of something simply stapled to a stick, or a folding implement festooned to a swoon and harking to more courtly times.

On a recent steamy Sunday a church group invited me to give an ecological sermon. The service that day was in a sunny side chapel. As souls packed their bodies into that small space, folks fanned themselves with the handout booklet I had brought, collectively keeping up a pleasant breeze.

It reminded me – and I mentioned this – of how honeybees constantly fan the air with their wings, cooling the densely populated hive in hot weather, and circulating precious winter heat. Bees’ social habits marry climate control with the act of moving around the hive – and everybody benefits.

I take one special fan to summer picnics and concerts, a gift from my dear friend Joyce Cheney. Fashioned from slats of sandalwood, it wafts a delicate, spicy scent with its mini-wind chill. It travels in a slender sleeve sewn from vintage drapery when not working in my fluttering hand.

Joyce, who creates museum exhibits, developed a traveling show of 20th century hand-held fans that embody folk art, advertising, cultural history and subtle engineering. They are made of straw, lace, paper, bone, wood, plastic, cardboard and silk. Her diverse array of 80 fans is often displayed with local collections. They tell a colorful visual tale of human quirks, vanities and comforts.

Fans have inspired centuries of dance – from ancient formal Asian stylings to American Burlesque va-va-voom. Fans have defined human rank, from slaves fanning Pharaoh with clusters of leaves to European nobles flaunting fine fabric folding fans. They have even gone to war, when Samurai wielded iron weapon fans.

In any time or place, material or style, fans are a potent but gentle force. In the age of Climate Change, fans can acclimate us to our planetary home, by simply moving air, sometimes with no more energy needs than our individual muscle power.

Which makes a fan a mighty cool tool for living Green – for living well.

Jean Ponzi presents the Earthworms enviro podcasts each week from KDHX. Pick ‘em up at podcasts.kdhx.org or through iTunes. Her fans say it’s a pretty cool show.

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