It's eery how an ancient world-view that once seemed hopelessly outdated now looks to be true.
Consider the middle section of the shma, taken from Deuteronomy 11:13-21). Reform and Reconstructionist siddurim deleted this passage, at least in part because their editors were uncomfortable with its message:
If you listen carefully to My commandments. . .
I will give you rain in its season. . .
And you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. . .
But be careful, lest you turn away and worship other gods. . .
And the wrath of Hashem will blaze against you,
He will close up the heavens,
There will be no rain,
And the land will not give her produce. . .
The notion of a G-d that destroys the land in response to our sins may rests uncomfortably with most of us -- but look around! The earth is warming up. The scientific consensus is clear: human activity is contributing to the warming. The question among scientists is no longer "are we contributing to global warming?", but rather "just how bad will the consequences be?" Big cars, luxury gardens, electric clothes driers, air conditioners, air travel: surely these are not the precise sins that the Torah had in mind when threatening divine retribution. But chasing luxury, maximizing personal safety to the utmost, and shirking communal responsibility? Moses would have recognized that one.
The Torah has always insisted that responsibility must translate into action. My personal action this summer has been to return to line drying our laundry. I line-dried when I lived in Israel for the year -- everyone in Israel line-dries in the summer -- so why can't we do it in America?
It turns out, line-drying is not as hard as I feared. The initial barrier is finding a place to hang the laundry. It's not like in Israel, where every home comes with a clothes line. Afraid of drilling holes in the outer wall of my house, I decided to buy a clothes rack instead. Again, not so easy: in Israel we had a nice, big rack that could accommodate an entire load. Here, the racks are small, and most of them have a vertical design that is not very effective -- clothes on the lower bars are obscured by clothes above them, and take forever to dry. I did find one, overpriced horizontal rack; it takes two of these plus one vertical rack to dry a load of laundry. Altogether, that was a $100 investment. I'm making it back on energy bills.
Once I had the racks, I had to build a routine. I throw in a load of laundry just before bed. The next morning, it takes about ten minutes to hang it out to dry. But I get some time savings taking it down that evening, because it is much easier to sort laundry when it's arrayed on a drying rack then when it's jumbled together in the dryer.
Our clothes are stiffer than they had been, and they don't have not nice permanent-press look. On the other hand, we don't get that wrinkled oh-no!-I-forgot-to-take-the-clothes-out-of-the-dryer look that is so common in my closet in the winter. Here are a few additional tips that I've learned:
-- Shirts that normally hang in the closet I dry on plastic hangers. I hang the hangers out on the rack, and then later transfer them straight to the closet. This saves rack space and time, and the shirts come out looking better.
-- The longer a load hangs outside, the stiffer it becomes, so if I'm doing laundry on the weekend I try to get the clothes in as soon as they dry. Some items I hang indoors; they take longer to dry, but turn-out softer.
-- Never leave clothes over night, at least not in northern California. They turn-out damp and a little smelly.
-- Sheets and tablecloths I drape over the shower to dry. Otherwise they take up too much space on the rack. If I have a load full of sheets, I'll just throw it in the dryer.
-- It's not an all-or-none commitment. My daughter is especially sensitive about her clothing, so I try to concentrate her clothes in a single load which I put in the dryer. Often, I fall behind on laundry during the week, and need to do several loads on Sunday. I can only fit one load on the racks; the rest go in the drier. Friends of ours in Israel who did not even own an electric drier would come to our apartment once a week to dry their towels. They were ok with somewhat stiff clothes, but the towels they wanted soft.
If you are blessed to live in a home with a yard, line drying has some real benefits -- besides the obvious one to the conscience. In the really hot weather earlier this summer, our house was much cooler without the drier running. Now that I'm in the habit of line-drying, it is hard for me to understand how I ever thought it reasonable to run an air conditioner and a clothes drier at the same time.
Is there any point to all this? Some people are throwing up their hands already, convinced that global warming is a runaway train. Yesterday's carbon emissions are not going away, so what's the point of even trying?
The Torah and the prophets scream against this defeatist attitude, promising that if we change our ways, the land will be healed. And again, their message has become timely. Back in April, climate experts H. Damon Matthews and Susan Solomon published a Perspectives piece in the elite journal Science entitled "Irreversible Does Not Mean Unavoidable". In it, they explain that although we can not reverse the warming that has already occurred, if we limit carbon emissions it is not too late to stop further warming.
In the words of the Netaneh Tokef prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:
עד יום מותו יחכה לו Until the day of his death He will await him
אם ישוב מיד יקבלו If he returns, immediately He will accept him.