Drying Out image

Drying Out

Rev.Fletcher Harper, Anglican, Executive Director of GreenFaith, United States of America

In the midst of the pandemic and the ongoing work I do on climate change - which can be dis-spiriting - I love doing laundry. Maybe it’s that so much of what I work on is beyond my immediate control. Maybe it’s that in at least one area of my life, I’m a bit obsessive. Whatever the case, I like using the clothes washer. In a small but enjoyable way, it makes me feel whole.

So when I found out that the US spends more on energy (and creates more climate pollution) to power clothes dryers annually than some small countries spend on their total energy usage, I decided that I wanted to shift to using a drying rack.

I know that Europeans use these regularly. But in the US, there are almost 90 million clothes dryers and air-drying clothes is not the norm.

The biggest hurdle I faced was not that I lacked the space to dry clothes. The apartment my partner and I live in has adequate space and receives plenty of sunshine. Nor was it an aversion to air-dried clothes - I have always liked the stiffness of clothes from the dryer line. It was anxiety that my long-time partner might not like the additional clutter. She likes neatness and order, which has always been a welcome counter to my “spontaneous” and somewhat chaotic style. I’m conscious of not bringing too much of my life’s jumble - metaphorical or otherwise - into our shared space. This seemingly minor hurdle prevented me from moving “beyond the dryer” for close to a year. It never seemed like the right time to bring it up.

To my pleasant surprise, when I finally raised the topic over dinner, she was wholly receptive - and also noted her love of air-dried clothes. We bought our first clothing rack; it was an attractive wooden clothes rack that smelled and felt nice. But it broke within a few months in a way that led me to believe that unless I spent over $100 on a designer wood drying rack, I’d end up with another broken rack within several weeks. So, rack number two was a less artisanal, more light-industrial metal version. It works well. Every once in a while, I need to tighten the screws that connect its various parts. But that has become part of the ritual, part of the enjoyment. Simple pleasures are a good thing.

I know that my own individual change is the tiniest of drops in the bucket in terms of emissions reductions. The ocean is extraordinarily wide and deep and my boat is small. But I also know that new infrastructure and technology alone cannot meet the necessary emission reduction levels in time to avoid absolutely catastrophic levels of climate change, and that immediate behavior changes by middle classes and wealthy people - such as me - are a key part of what is needed. Whether this gets framed in the spirit of “more fun, less stuff” or as sacrifices needed for the common good doesn’t matter much - I suspect that from a communications perspective, a bit of both is smart. The important thing is that people like me need to make these and other changes now, and get others to do the same while also pushing like all hell for system change.

In another area of my life, I’ve benefited from working on becoming more anti-racist as a person. I think of these small steps in my energy use in the same way. Taking these steps makes me struggle with the oil-soaked US way of life, struggle with my own resistance to change, find new meaning in a different way of living. To the degree that addiction is a useful metaphor for the way we’re hooked on fossil fuels, a drying-out rack even has some humor as a physical-spiritual symbol.

Whatever the case, by air-drying my clothes I’m reminded that there are a lot of emissions reductions within easy reach, that our society's needs to make it the norm for us all to live more sustainably, and that the simple pleasures of living sustainably help sustain my spirit for the long struggle ahead.

What are others doing?