Sunday 11 May 2008

When hanging out the washing is civil disobedience!

Perhaps the world is completely mad and it's all our own fault if we kill every living thing on it's surface.

An article in yesterdays SMH was how some people in America are fighting against laws that prohibit people from drying their washing outside. I knew some buildings in cities did this, but didn't realise that there could be laws stopping people from loading up the Hills Hoist in their backyard.

It's quite incredible that at least 6% of household energy consumption can be from electric clothes dryers. It's even more incredible that you might need to get a law passed so that you can hang out the washing.

Getting pegged for letting it all hang out

Ian Munro in Southington, Connecticut
May 10, 2008

THIS New England morning has unfolded into an idyll of spring sunshine and soft breezes. It is, quite simply, one perfect day - ideal for drying laundry and, as it happens, for civil disobedience.

That is how it adds up in Sharon Vocke's backyard, where clotheslines are banned, as they are in much of the United States.

It is a prohibition she routinely breaches when she hangs her laundry on her line, homemade of course, since there is little joy for Hills hoist retailers here.

Mrs Vocke's line is rigged with a pulley system and slung from her porch to the garage in this affluent pocket of sweeping, unfenced gardens and sprawling homes.

Electric clothes dryers represent about 6 per cent of domestic power consumption, according to official estimates, and while the world searches for responses to global warming, Mrs Vocke points to her backyard, wind and solar power.

"It takes me about six minutes to violate my neighbourhood covenant and it's worth every second to have my clothes smell nice and to know I am not harming the air we breathe," the 46-year-old said recently in a submission to Connecticut's General Assembly Energy and Technology Committee.

The committee was considering a law giving homeowners the right to use clotheslines despite neighbourhood fears that displays of underwear would undermine property values. But as with similar proposals in Vermont and New Hampshire, the reformers failed and bans stay in place.

In Vermont, Richard McCormack sponsored an unsuccessful "Right to Dry" law.

"I did not get a definitive 'right to dry' in the state of Vermont," said the state senator. "What I did get was an energy conservation bill that includes the statement that the Government recognises that voluntary energy conservation is a good thing and that it recognises there are impediments to it." But an explicit statement, that citizens had a right to use clotheslines, was struck out.

Last September, the town of Poughkeepsie in New York State passed a "laundry law" imposing $US100 ($106) fines on anyone caught drying on front porches.

"I wonder if this is all a commentary on our consumer-oriented American traits," Mrs Vocke said. "I don't know how common this is - just the fact it was ever written into our [neighbourhood rules] really bothers me."

Line-drying advocates will persist. Alexander Lee, a New Hampshire lawyer who created the lobby group Project Laundry List in 1995, said people were anxious to reduce energy consumption and, while solar panels were expensive, anyone could afford a clothesline.

Mr Lee said the estimated 6 per cent of domestic power consumed by electric dryers did not account for commercial laundromats or 17 million homes with gas-powered dryers.

Bans on clotheslines are relatively recent, and seem to be based on the opinion they are unsightly and a mark of poverty.

"In the last 30 years, it's increased exponentially," Mr Lee said. "Really, it's since World War II, since people started moving into homeowners associations which introduced lots of prohibitions."

Martin Mador, a lobbyist and author of Connecticut's "Right to Dry Bill", will try again next year.

In rejecting the Vermont bill, Senator McCormack's colleagues said clotheslines were too trivial to be bothered with, to which he responds that is why communities should not be banning them.

"It's very hard getting Americans to get with the idea of saving energy," Senator McCormack said. "I so love my country. But I look at [it] from time to time and say to myself, 'This place is insane'."

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