30 Days Towards Sustainability

Day 1: Use a solar clothes dryer to dry your clothes.

The solar clothes dryer is a marvelous invention. It is simple to build, use, and maintain. You need:

1. A length of rope, commonly sold in dollar stores as "clothes line".

2. Clothes pins, also sold in dollar stores.

3. Something to stretch the clothes line between.

My clothes line is stretched between a tree and a fence post. You can also plant posts in the ground specifically for use as your solar clothes dryer. The traditional model is a "T" shaped post, allowing for 2 or 3 strands of clothes line.

Another helpful item is a pouch to hang around your neck, in which you put the clothes pins while hanging the clothes out to dry. Clothes racks are available to allow indoor drying of clothes. If you have a solar sun porch, that would be a great place to dry your clothes on rainy days.

This is one of the simplest and easiest steps towards sustainability. It also provides great benefits -- the clothes smell great!

Besides the ease and simplicity of the solar clothes dryer, there is a second reason I selected it for the first step.

We might as well, at the very beginning, understand that as we move towards sustainability, questions of race, class, and personal entitlement must be addressed.

Whenever I talk about using a solar clothes dryer, the following objections are often presented:

1. "My neighbors will think I'm weird if I use a clothes line."

2. "Using a clothes line is so white trash."

3. "I like soft towels."

4. I don't have time for that.

About 6% of the nation's electrical energy is used to dry clothes. One reference I found on the internet said that about 3 kilograms of greenhouse gases are created for each load of clothes dried. So we need to ask ourselves if our personal attitudes about race, class, and personal entitlement are more important than saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If race, class, and personal entitlement win, then we all lose because that is the path to the ash-heap of history, a future that looks more like Mordor than anything else.

There is no way forward into sustainability that does not involve challenging those attitudes of race, class, and personal entitlement so that we change the way we do things. Sustainability is not a matter of belonging to the right organizations, writing letters, believing politically correct opinions, and despising unpolitically correct politicians. Sustainability is about how we live our lives.

We Americans are incredibly wealthy by world standards. From that wealth we often derive a personal sense of entitlement. If we think we are entitled to use all the energy we want, then we will use all the energy we want. We actually look down on people who use sustainable methods -- such as the solar clothes dryer -- because we think our economic status entitles us to waste energy by using an electric or natural gas clothes dryer.

Our neighbors opinions of what we do (or what we think our neighbors opinions will be) become more important than securing peace, justice, and sustainability in the world around us.

Because we are special, we think our time is so important that we can waste energy in order to "save time". We never stop to question the assumption that we are actually saving time as we squander fossil fuels and release greenhouse gases.

And so it comes to pass that we are well programmed to be mindless consumers, ravaging the earth and polluting the atmosphere in our quest for the "good life". Breaking free of that will require conscious effort to challenge our own personal attitudes that keep us from moving towards sustainability.

Nine times out of ten, when I suggest sustainable alternatives, the response is a variety of objections as to why it won't work, or why it isn't appropriate for a particular situation.

That's how we got into the situation we are in. Nobody wakes up in the morning, yawns, and says to themselves, "Well, today I am going to ravage the earth and pollute the atmosphere." Yet, in the myriads of decisions we make during the day, we often decide to ravage the earth, pollute the atmosphere, and oppress the poor.

If we want to be in a better situation, then we need to make better decisions. Some of those are big decisions, some of them are small.

I don't see any way into a sustainable future that would allow us to continue to run electric or natural gas dryers to dry our clothes. Perhaps we could use them on rainy days (although maybe we could wait for a sunny day to do our laundry), or in an emergency when you just have to have a clean shirt in 15 minutes (or maybe we could plan our clothing use better), or when it is very cold. And people who are disabled may be entitled to clothes dryers because of their physical condition and ability. But those would be "extraordinary" situations, the "ordinary" way to dry our clothes will be the solar clothes dryer.

This is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. It is an easy way to add a lot of value to your life.

What is virtue? Virtue is the habit of doing good. How do we develop virtue? By doing good things. Do a good thing today -- on your way home, pick up some clothes line and clothes pins at your favorite local store.


Bob Waldrop

PS. Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. If switching to 100% solar clothes drying is too much to contemplate at first, then solar dry your clothes every other week, or on some other schedule. Every BTU saved is a BTU that doesn't contribute to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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