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Dirty Linen, Solar Dryers

We the people of the U.S. are the world's biggest energy hogs, using 25% of the world's oil with only 5% of the world's people. This is finally becoming known to a bigger percent of the population than the environmentalists who have been ranting about it for the past 30 years.

Since, we're already laundering our dirty linen in public, let's take a look at laundry. Go to Italy, for example, and you'll see laundry hanging on lines on balconies and rooftops, even in well-to-do, conservative neighborhoods. The Italians don't seem to have a problem with this ancient solar-energy device.

We do, drying our clothes in clothes dryers that use the energy equivalent of 2.2 billion gallons of oil a year—which equals an entire two-and-half days worth of our annual oil consumption. The average household cost of using a clothes dryer is around $85 a year. So hang up a clothesline now; hardware stores carry plenty of clothesline gadgets. And in winter, dry your stuff inside, using that quaint device known as a clothes rack.

So what's our problem, anyhow? In 1987-88 I was a scholar-in-residence at Oberlin College in Ohio, a school known for its ultraliberal student body and their laudable environmental awareness. Noticing that they were spending money and wasting energy using clothes dryers, I conspired with several daring students to install a clothesline from a window of the laundry room to a tree and exhorted them to use it. Yet the campus building management soon objected, demanding that the line come down. The reason given was that clothes hanging on a line were "out of keeping with our small-town atmosphere."

Yet not many years earlier, clothes flapping on lines were a symbol of wholesome family life in small town America. American as apple pie, they were celebrated in art by patriots like Norman Rockwell, who even put a clothesline in his celebrated Saturday Evening Post magazine cover of a soldier coming home from the war. For a look at this and other clothesline art, see www.laundrylist.org/education/laundryhistory.htm. Exactly how they came to be a symbol of urban squalor.

Unfortunately, this is not just a matter of taste. Clotheslines, are actually banned or restricted in thousands of communities in the U.S. Thank goodness we now have a Right to Dry movement, spearheaded by www.laundrylist.org If you're a victim of such a ban, or the whole idea just bothers you, hook up with these folks.

April 3, 2007

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