(Adam Walker Cleaveland’s recent tweet about line-drying clothes prompted me to resurrect this piece that I wrote a few years ago for Relevant Magazine.)
I have to admit, I just like the sound of it. Undies on the line. I mean, it’s true; they are there, on the clothesline, hanging in the breeze. But somehow the idea of them sounds much more glamorous, more adventurous, even exciting, than it actually is. Because they are just hanging there. That’s about it. They aren’t doing anything. Just hanging.
The reality of the situation is that I don’t really like air-dried clothing. I much prefer putting my clothes, along with a Bounce sheet in the dryer, cooking them for a mere 45 minutes and leaving them infused with that natural spring freshness. None of this air-drying stuff—where’s the spring freshness in that? But I am also in this phase, hopefully one that will stick with me to some degree, of trying to be a good steward of creation’s resources—not using time-saving-but- energy-wasting methods when there is an alternative that is more environmentally friendly. I know this might sound just a bit over the top, so lest you think I am about to move to a commune and weave my own clothes out of recycled coffee filters, let me do a bit of explaining.
I grew up in Newport Beach, Calif. It is not exactly the bastion of liberal tree-hugging politics. I also grew up loving what I referred to as “logger hoggers.” A logger hogger, for those unfortunate souls who did not have the opportunity to love them as children, is simply a semi-truck carrying a load of recently felled large trees. My experience of them happened during vacations, which coincidentally took place in wooded, mountainous areas. Seeing a logger hogger pass by our luggage rack-laden 1970s Hornet (yellow with fake wood paneling, of course), I would get really excited.
It was not until a weekend church retreat in the mountains as a UC Berkeley freshman that I realized these magical icons from my youth had a somewhat darker side. With a look of horror at my excitement upon seeing a logger hogger, an older, wiser and more environmentally aware member of the group explained the ramifications of clear-cutting and their connection to my beloved logger hoggers. So much for that warm, fuzzy childhood memory.
So, all that to say, when I talk about my newfound environmentalism, that is the context in which it exists.
Back to the undies on the line. The point is, why put clothes in a dryer that uses energy to run, when, especially in Newport Beach in May, there is plentiful, natural, already provided sunlight that will accomplish the same task while expending nothing? Financially it makes sense—you get something for free instead of paying for it. Not a bad deal. Environmentally it makes sense—you use an existing resource that is not depleted in the process, and you neglect to use a manufactured resource that is depleted in the process. When put that way, it seems so obvious, so simple really.
Are we as Christians, not called to be good stewards of creation? What does that fancy-sounding phrase mean anyway? Wouldn’t choosing to conserve energy be a way to care for the earth? Didn’t God command, in Genesis, that we are put on the earth to till it and keep it? I have been trying to think about what this might look like. My gut reaction is to think that it means care for, conserve, preserve. But I do know that there are those who see God’s command more in the light of having dominion over the earth as using whatever you want and not necessarily being concerned about the consequences.
But then I think, what if a friend loaned me something, say his car, and said, “Here, it is yours, use it, keep it, have dominion over it (OK, he probably wouldn’t say that, but you get the point).” If I were give it back to him later with the windshield bashed in, chocolate milkshake soaked into the passenger’s seat, a dented rear bumper and the stereo stripped out, what do you think his response would be? I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think it would be one of delighted contentment. I said you could use my car, not destroy it. Obviously, we would never consider (at least I hope not) doing something so brash, rude and just flat-out wrong to our friend’s car. So why do we think it is OK with God’s earth?
Which brings me back to the undies again. The thing is, I like my undies to be soft, and line-dried undies are, well, a bit crusty. Sure, using a clothes dryer is not in the same category perhaps as many other worse-for the-environment actions such as a tanker’s oil spill in a wildlife refuge in Alaska, but it is the principle of the matter.
So, I am in a quandary. How can I justify basking in my soft cushion of comfort, knowing that I am personally responsible for contributing to our environmental woes? Sure, it is one thing to cheer on the truck representation of clear-cutting forests as an uninformed youngster, but it is another thing to have experienced firsthand the successful drying of one’s undies on the clothesline and willfully return to the energy-consuming Bounce sheets.
There is an obvious solution; it is just that the one that makes so much logical sense leaves me feeling, well, a bit stiff.