Monday, November 15, 2010

FTT Off Topic: True Green

FTT Off Topic is a recurring series of not particularly sports related posts for people who just like the writing. Skip at will; y'all have been warned.

Six months ago, my clothes dryer broke. It's one of those appliances that came with the house, so I had no attachment to it, but as we are first-time homeowners, that's not exactly a new situation. The cylinder spun, but without heat, so it didn't seem like a big cost... but voila, $125 I didn't really have. As a backup, since I needed clothes dry as soon as the machine went down, I went to my local home improvement store and bought a clothes drying stand.

I'm a little odd, I suspect, from most guys; laundry has always been something I take care of. Part of this is the OCD, and part of this is just the ability to churn through busy work. Having laundry pile up for more than a week sets my teeth on edge and makes me unhappy on every level. It's just something that has to get done, dammit, so I'll just go do it. Besides, those six-odd years of living at college and then on my own had an impact. So this is my area.

A week later, the dryer broke again. Same issue. And rather than calling the repair guy back, I just bought a few more racks, and went full-time to that solution instead.

Now, a few points about my environmentalism. Despite the presence of a hybrid, the nearly universal use of compact fluroescent light bulbs, my voting pattern, my single-car household and my dependence on public transportation, it's not doctrinaire. I recycle, but I also use too much; the bins outside my home on trash day look like a frat house. My lawnmower is electric because I want quiet and a lack of gasoline stink more than I want power. I don't log many miles on my bike anymore, especially now that I take more meetings with top management. When we had to have the carpet replaced, I chose a comfortable and lower priced option over a more environmentally correct solution. When we shop for food, we don't limit ourselves to local cuisine only, and produce goes bad far too often. The home is heated, too often, by burning something like a thousand gallons of heating oil a year in the winter. It's cooled, too often, with air conditioners that aren't always necessary in the summer. And so on, and so on.

If everyone lived as we did, the planet would be in better shape, but we'd still have an immense problem. Our carbon footprint is smaller than most, but still a trainwreck. I'm pretty sure that when I'm older, there will be things that we do that my kids will be appalled by, the same way that kids have always. But back to the dryer.

When you ask people what household appliance they can't live without, which is a longstanding public survey, you see how we've all become remarkably dependent on technology in the last 20 years. Your iPod or MP3 player, once you get to the point of having your entire musical library in your pocket? Essential. High-speed Intenet connections? Intolerable in its absence. A cell phone, GPS, cable with all of your niche channels, or Netflix Instant with your queue, or a cranking DVR... they all move from useful convenience to appendage with startling modern speed. And the clothes dryer, like the dishwasher, has been part of the same trend. We used to feel shamed about needing these things; now, not so much. The percentages of people who feel like they *have to* have these things has gone from the 40s to the 80s.

Of course, people all over the world live without clothes dryers. And have for, well, tens of thousands of years. And so, for the past six months, has my family.

It's not a panacea. The hours per month that I spend hanging and checking clothes for moisture aren't thrilling. My odd private shame moments and rain-tastic New Jersey weather means that hanging clothes outside isn't a very appealing option, so our eco-win is mitigated by running fans and a dehumidifier in the laundry room when clothes are hung up. Fabric softener that you add to the washing machine really doesn't do that great of a job, so nothing ever feels as fluffy. My clothes have a starchy quality now that takes some time to get used to, and the whole process every week makes me feel like I'm poor, when we really are not. (There is a difference between poor and having little disposable income. I keep telling myself this as the balance owed on the house doesn't change.)

It's also what real environmentalism feels like, I think. Technology is only going to go so far in getting us out of the hole that it helped build. There is no convenient and eco-friendly way to dry clothes in a fraction of the time that evaporation uses, just as there is no eco-friendly way to travel far away from your home for a vacation.

There are simply choices, of which a clothes dryer is one. And until more of us make the choices that take some pain, admittedly with the nice benefit of a lower utility bill, we're really not treating the planet or our checkbook in the way we should. And that's all that I've got to say about that.

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