Comfort refers to an overall feeling of physical and mental ease or wellbeing generally brought about by the presence of health, resources, or pleasing stimuli. Being “comfortable,” in an economic sense, denotes possession of a relatively high degree of wealth and leisure time.

Standards of comfort vary greatly between societies, regions, cultures, and individuals. Even at the level of the small group and individual, preferences surrounding comfort may vary. Whereas those in highly industrialized nations might expect material comforts such as air-conditioning, refrigeration, and rapid transit, those in so-called developing ones may feel comfortable without such amenities.

Today, norms of comfort in most industrialized societies are broadly dependent on the consumption of fossil fuels. Demand for technologies of comfort such as air-conditioning creates a need for energy use and (usually) for fossil fuel emissions. This increased energy use thus correlates to rising global temperatures, and rising temperatures then create the demand for more energy use and emissions. Hence there is a dangerous feedback loop between the consumption of comfort and the increasing desire for it, one driven by the assumption that the availability of comfort is in itself a good thing.

Ideals of comfort, however, are relative and alterable. It is only since the creation of the standard heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system that comfort in building design has meant the precise maintenance of temperatures between 68 and 73 degrees F. This temperature spectrum might be understood as a frivolous luxury rather than an expectation. The reality is that it takes energy use (heating and cooling) to hold ambient temperatures within such a narrow band, and this generally entails emissions. To reduce emissions, it is necessary to once again become comfortable with a broader definition of comfort.

The current regime of comfort must end.

Defined by Andrew Michael Gorin