Earthworms’ Castings

with Jean Ponzi


After a deliciously long, slow, cool and (thankfully drought-relieving) wet Spring of 2013, we find ourselves smack into Summer – the Cooling Season.

Energy use in our region’s climate jacks up when air conditioning units kick on. Utility bills skyrocket. Electrical production ramps up to meet the increased demand – with peak demand times in the hottest parts of every day.

We’ve come to rely on fossil fuel-intensive mechanical climate control to make it through the heat each year. But there are other options to cope with – and maybe even revel in – Earth’s most productive season.

Plant growth ramps up in summer too, as nature makes expert use of the season’s boost in heat and daylight. For home gardeners and farmers, the season many find blazing is the engine of year-round abundance.

If you’re tending plants, you know how to work around intensive heat while making best use of it too. You water and weed early in the day – so you get up early to get in your outdoor chores and activities before the sun heats up the landscape. A logical companion practice is to take a siesta, making time-out use of the mid-day blaze to recharge for a second round of activity at twilight.

But how many busy, modern folk build a mid-day break into their day?

In the season of most vivid color and light, use of these natural properties is another low-tech, highly effective cooling technology. Why would anyone in St. Louis buy a black car, given our summer season? And what about all those hot-tar black flat roofs on buildings all over the area?

Last year we had the roof of our home painted white – a one-time investment – and I was amazed at how comfortable our indoor environment remained, even during triple-digit heat waves.

One of my Green Dreams is a Cool Roofs Initiative for the City of St. Louis. Imagine the potential for energy-bill savings for renters in all those flat-roofed buildings – and how we could transform the Urban Heat Island! And generate some jobs.

Moving from a sunny spot to deep shade, you can feel a drop in temperature of easily more than 10 degrees. A regional effort to increase our Urban Forest Canopy would bank a huge investment in energy savings, civic beauty, property values – and cooler summer options all around town. Plus trees are powerful mitigators of stormwater runoff – and they sequester carbon while cleaning pollutants out of the air. Especially in summer, some of humankind’s (and certainly my) best friends are Big Trees.

Then there’s the issue of what to wear. Ideally, it’s loose fitting, light-colored, lightly textured – and informal. Seersucker suits, a point of controversy in our most recent legislative session, were invented to enable southern gentry to spruce up year-round, long before air conditioning. Those little fabric ripples are mechanical air circulators. And that white and light blue palette gives just enough color to please the eye without trapping heat in the garment. We have other seasons for black and wools (even light-weight suiting woolens). Summer styles have evolved for a reason. And after the heat of the day, your recharged, refreshed spirit can caper in tie-dye.

I sleep comfortably every summer night after a short, cool shower just at bedtime, and turning on the ceiling fan. Fan-generated moving air fools human bodies into feeling cooler, by evaporating humid moisture that feels so sticky on the skin. And creating a comfortable microclimate under an ENERGY STAR ceiling fan can enable you to reduce your AC power consumption – or even, believe it or not, sleep without air conditioning.

Choice of fluid intake is a major cooling power determinant. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol all short-circuit our bodies’ cooling mechanisms. The best summer beverage is The Crystal Refresher (free to you from Mother Nature) – good ole H20. Another option is sun-brewed Green Tea. It’s calming, refreshing, anti-oxidating, and cheap: a few cents per compostable teabag. You can sock out many bucks for bottled beverages or enjoy inexpensive, healthy DIY drinks. The household refrigerator is, in my humble opinion, one of the best modern uses of fossil fuels.

Some sure-fire, low-impact Cooling secrets have been common knowledge through generations of summers. Let some of them into your summer activities!

Jean Ponzi locally broadcasts many cool Green topics: Mondays 7-8 p.m. catch “Earthworms” on FM-88 KDHX, and tune into “Growing Green St. Louis” Sundays 1-2 p.m. on the Big 550 KTRS.