Earthworms’ Castings

By Jean Ponzi


Fan Club


I am an avid fan of low-tech cooling, Throughout the 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 change our region’s famous humidity, but it does help 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 another psycho-advantage, conjuring the climatic extreme we furless Midwest mammals cope with on the opposite side of the year.


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


The perfect complement to an electric fan will whip you up a portable, comfortable DIY micro-climate, anywhere. Taa-daa! The Basic Hand-Held Fan. This could be a stiff piece of something simply stapled to a stick, or an elegant elaborately decorated intricately folding implement reminiscent of more courtly times.


On a steamy Sunday morning earlier this summer I gave an ecological sermon for a church service. It was held in a side chapel, because the hosts did not expect much of a crowd. Green proved otherwise as dozens of souls packed into that sunny and un-air conditioned space. Folks quickly began fanning themselves with their copies of the service program, generating an effective, pleasant breeze.


It reminded me – and I mentioned this – of how bees in a hive 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 cruising around the hive – and everybody benefits.


The fan I take to summer picnics and concerts was a gift from my dear friend Joyce Cheney. It’s a lacy-textured fan made of slats of sandalwood, which wafts a delicate, spicy scent with its mini-wind chill, 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 racy American Burlesques. They have defined human rank, from slaves fanning Pharaoh with clusters of feathers or leaves to European nobles flaunting fine fabric folding fans. Fans 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, a pivotal concept for dealing with Global Climate Change. Fans can keep us acclimated on our planetary home, by simply moving air, often with just our individual muscle power.

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


Jean Ponzi hosts the environmental talk show “Earthworms” on FM-88 KDHX. Listen live Mondays 7-8 p.m. or take a podcast with you anytime, from www.kdhx.org. Her fans say it’s a pretty cool radio show.