AC Is Expensive

AC is Expensive

Posted on 2011-08-03 07:19:29 by Jer

Normally the news is anathema to me, and for good reason. My contempt for humanity is directly proportional to my news consumption. I want to like people, so I avoid the news. You end up hearing about the tornadoes, tsunamis and whatnot eventually anyway. However, every so often something slips past my filters.

This little gem showed up on Hacker News a while back. We spend $20 billion annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. For some reason it stuck in my head. This past weekend I caught up with an old friend who is an educator/coach/school administrator. We had some good conversations on the issues facing schools and it occurred to me to take another look at this article and translate the figures into something meaningful to me. I could care less about the budget of NASA or G8 democracy building. What if we took that air conditioning bill and hired some teachers?

Time for a napkin exercise.

# debatable fact: annual cost for AC
# fact: number of U.S. counties according to Wolfram Alpha
# assumption: there are 10 schools per county
# assumption which may get me lynched by any teachers who read this
def missing_teachers(): 
    return int((ac/salary)/(counties*county_schools))

Yeah, I do my math in the python interpreter. About the only code I write these days.

So, the napkin math indicates that we could hire four teachers for every school in the country for the cost of our overseas AC bill each year. Of course, as the article notes the Pentagon disputes the $20B figure (and most teachers will dispute my salary figure) so let's try this with the current value of the Cost of War.


Makes you think. Of course, this is for the term of the war and not annually. Point being: any way you cut it, that's an awful lot of teachers.

Now would be a good time to point out that supporting the troops and supporting a war are two vastly different things. Providing a modicum of comfort is the least we can do for people who are risking their lives. However, there is an opportunity cost here that can't be ignored.

It is definitely not in the best interest of the soldiers to be in harm's way. Is it in the country's best interest? To me, we would have more real "national security" if the troops were safe at home and we were hiring more teachers and not going farther into debt.

Rhetoric is irrelevant. Judge a nation's priorities by where it spends its money. Your money. Check out the budget priorities and see how those priorities line up with your values. You might want to remember that chart the next time your child's music or art program is axed.

Jeremy Ulstad

Dad, IT Architect, Musician, Sailor

Minneapolis, Minnesota