I recently started hanging laundry outside to dry. My intent was to reduce my home’s energy use and carbon footprint. It’s too soon to know if I’ve done so; however, its already affected my life. I now must adjust my activities to do laundry early on days with good weather. I also must take the clothes down and fold them in a timely manner. There’s no more leaving them in the dryer until I feel like folding them and running the dryer (again!) to fluff out the wrinkles.
I’m embarrassed to say I’m getting annoyed at having to plan my activities around daylight and good weather, so I can dry my clothes. That statement reveals a level of privilege that makes me uncomfortable. If you have a dog who needs walking or livestock that needs care, you’re outside every day and in all kinds of weather. The same is true for those whose job requires outside labor, such as construction or utility work. But if you’re reading this blog post, odds are you may be like me. You can choose when you go outside or not.
My annoyance at having to plan laundry around weather and daylight hours reveals how disconnected my daily life has become from the natural systems that sustain my life. Modern housing has become so comfortable, I forget I live within and am dependent on these systems for my survival. Standing outside, clipping cloth to a line, idles my mind and sends it wandering. I find myself noticing and reflecting on the natural system in which I live.
My number one reflection: Texas is hot in late June. Duh! It’s one thing to know it intellectually, but it’s not understood until experienced in the body. When I had a horse and did field work for my job, I regularly was out in the heat. It’s been awhile since those days. Standing in the Texas sun, hanging out laundry, reminded me of what heat feels like for people who are required to work in it.
Approximately 47% of all civilian jobs require the worker to be outside during the day. Their work will get harder, and more dangerous, as the average daily temperature continues to increase. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports: “Workers in some occupations are especially vulnerable and at risk due to impacts of climate change on health.” This information can be difficult to find, since much of the government data related to the impact of climate change on worker health was removed from publicly accessible websites in late 2016.
Looking at the sky as I hang laundry, I notice it’s hazy. Fort Worth, where I live, is within a nonattainment zone for ground-level ozone. Increasing temperatures are expected to worsen the health problems related to ozone pollution. Climate change is already affecting public health in the U.S. In addition to heat-related illnesses, climate change increases air pollution, leads to more allergens, expands areas impacted by vector-borne diseases, and causes many other health effects.
The daily weather report now is more than a passing interest for me, since it determines if I can do laundry. A dry spell in June was great for drying clothes. While hanging them on the line, I noticed the wilting vegetation in my yard. It caused me to reflect on crops growing in the region and how they might be doing. The system of agriculture that feeds us was developed for last century’s climate. In addition to increasing average temperatures, climate change is altering the water cycle, on which our crops depend. According to a USDA report, climate change is having direct and indirect effects on agriculture and challenges the ability of agricultural systems to meet our needs in the future.
As I hurry to finish hanging the laundry, so I can get back into my air-conditioned house, my mind recalls the houses I’ve seen without air conditioning in my community and across the southern U.S. Even for those who have air conditioning, many people can’t afford to pay the electricity bill that results from running it. The problem is worse this summer, as more than 41 million people have lost their job and filed for unemployment due to the pandemic. I also think of the over 500,000 people living without secure shelter in the U.S. They are exposed to the heat every day of summer.
Hanging laundry outside to dry started as an attempt to reduce energy use. It has become an exercise in humility. It’s a reminder that I don’t just live in a house. I dwell in a place. Creation care doesn’t happen virtually. It’s rooted in an understanding of my place on this planet and my dependence on it for healthy air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat. I can’t know what I don’t see, and I can’t love what I don’t know. Going outside to hang laundry helps me see and know my place. Creation care starts here, in the place where I dwell, not some other place needing protection. As Rev. Dr. Mark Brocker asks in Coming Home to Earth:
“How can we love God whom we have not seen if we do not love our home place which we have seen? How can we long for an eternal home with God if we do not appreciate our Earth home God has given us? (p. 163)”
Hanging laundry also reminds me of my privilege. I live comfortably in my air-conditioned house, going from air-conditioned place to place in my air-conditioned car. Many others don’t have this privilege. If I’m honest, I must confess my comfort comes at the expense of those who don’t have an escape from the effects of increasing temperatures, since emissions from air-conditioning are a significant contributor to climate change.
Maybe it’s time for me to be less comfortable in buildings and cars, for the good of others. Maybe this comfort is why 46% of Americans don’t think their family will be hurt by global warming, even though their health and food already are being impacted by it. Maybe too many of us are too comfortable. Maybe the real purpose of hanging laundry outside is to become comfortable being uncomfortable, so I can make the substantial changes necessary to mitigate and adapt to climate change.