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Top 5 signs your ancestors were geniuses at beating the heat

We're dealing with the climate now. But it's not the first time...

Top 5 signs  your ancestors were geniuses at beating the heat

Before air conditioning in the latter half of the 20th century, humankind didn't just suffer in the heat. We met the heat with creativity and a whole lot of cool.

Let me just say it: I love AC. I even own a T-shirt with an AC unit on it. I love my AC that much. Yes, AC feels good, but the fact is, it isn't all that great for the environment.

That's why I was so impressed to discover that the generation before AC was implementing lifestyle climate hacks and wide-scale architectural and infrastructure changes that truly give me and all of us AC addicts a run for my air-conditioning-loving money.


Our ancestors were smart! Here are my favorite five tricks from the past for dealing with climate, aka...

The top five signs your hot weather ancestors were complete geniuses at beating the heat.

#1: They planted trees!

Image via Ken Lund/Flickr.

There's a strategic way to do it. A 1984 paper from the University of South Florida discusses the Southern tradition of intentional planting when it comes to keeping cool:

"Southerners would always try to plant theirs on the east and west sides of their homes, to protect from the rays of the rising and setting sun."

#2: They built things in special ways.

We're not talking small-scale here — these are huge changes. These are engineering feats to create ventilation, to avoid interior heat buildup, and more.

William Cooper, a professor at Louisiana State University, told the Boston Globe about some architecture techniques, such as building houses specifically for air circulation:

"People with the means to do so used to construct homes that stood several feet above the ground, in order to get air circulating under the floor. ... They had long halls through the middle of the house, so if you opened a door at each end, you got a breeze coming through, and you'd have windows on the sides so you'd get cross-ventilation.'"

Image of the Marcella Plantation in Mileston, Mississippi, via the Library of Congress/Flickr.

And here's a nice equality moment. Fancy folks and non-fancy folks alike benefitted from these feats of engineering. Note how this more humble abode above has both a porch and ventilation underneath!

More architectural feats include huge, wide eaves and awnings for shade, high ceilings for the heat to rise, and huge porches to block out sun and heat. Even in the North, folks would open the basement and top-floor windows of the home to create a vertical airflow that acted like a chimney, but for heat. Hot air comes in the basement and escapes out of the top floor!

These lifestyle climate hacks from past generations weren't just green before it was cool — they were beautiful.

Check out this turret, designed to give airflow to the hotter top floors of this old home (remember, heat rises!)...

Kinda gorgeous, right? But you know there's a nice breeze up there for those hot Kansas summers. Image via the U.S. National Archives/Flickr.

...and this two-story porch!

Beautiful AND functional. Image via the Library of Congress/Flickr.

This generation was creating BEAUTIFUL, reusable things out of necessity. While we walk around complaining about rising temperatures (but not really doing anything to stop it — cough, cough, climate deniers!), a look at our grandparents shows us how smart and environmentally friendly we can be when we put our minds to it. At least, that's what they did.

#3: Windows weren't just for gazing.

They're for airflow — and a scientific understanding of hot vs. cool air.

Have you heard of a transom?

Image via the U.S. National Archives/Flickr.

I hadn't, but I had seen them. They're those windows above your door that allow hot air to circulate to higher floors in the house. On exterior doors, transoms even had special hardware. This wasn't just a life-hack — it was a full-on craftsman tradition, complete with special engineering.

In addition to transoms, double-hung windows are another innovation.

Image via JustyCinMD/Flickr.

These are a huge staple for warmer/scorching climates. They open from the top to let heat out during the day and from the bottom to let in cool night air when the sun sets.

#4: Reflective roofs.

These guys were doing fancy roofs waaay before it was cool. Their roofs were made of reflective materials and were lighter in color.

Tin roofs! Image via Florida Memory/Flickr.

Imagine that in contrast to the darker asphalt roofs that are so common now.

#5: They adapted their habits (and had fun).

Older generations didn't lean against the winds of climate — they walked with it, adapting in myriad ways.

From the huge, thick drapes to cover their big windows during the day, to the way they changed the way they opened those windows, to even just carrying a fan everywhere ... they were adapting and making newer things the norm as they found creative solutions to dealing with climate.

And let's not forget the best adaptation: hanging out on the porch. Some folks would even sleep on screened-in porches in the summer.

You could also knit and flirt, like these folks from the early 1900s. Gotta prepare for winter in similar creative ways! Image via State Library of New South /Flickr.

My family's hot weather tradition involves a HUGE iced tea on the porch.

To me, this is heaven. Image via Melissa Doroquez/Flickr.

Not a bad adaptation. Very fun, and so chill.

These old traditions got me thinking: If they managed to find ingenious ways to cope with climate, we could all get together again to deal with it, right?

The fact is, we can't all run out and build a second story on our porch or cut a hole in the wall above our door. But individually, we can make small changes and adaptations to our habits. And generationally, we can work together and innovate to find new ways to deal with our climate that are just as beautiful and fun as our grandparents did.

Not sure if anyone will ever invent anything better than a shady porch and cold iced tea on a hot day, but I'd like to see us try.

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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