Editorial – Hanging Out

Given that the world’s ice cover is melting at an alarming rate, it could be said that government action to address the problem is the most glacial thing around. There’s hope, though, in a recent announcement by Gerry Phillips, Ontario’s Energy Minister. It seems that substance might finally be taking precedence over style, as the province’s government is thinking about reversing existing bans on clotheslines.

Yes, It’s true?no longer will Ontario households be forced to spew unnecessary pollution into the air in an effort to save their neighbours? sensitive eyes from the sight of flapping T-shirts and tatty underwear. Homeowners everywhere (even in premium, executive subdivisions designed for ?superior living?) will be allowed to run their skivvies out on laundry day?and hang what the neighbours say.

According to the CBC, clotheslines are ?banned under some municipal bylaws and contracts with home builders.? If the energy minister’s plan gets the go-ahead, anyone living in a ?freehold detached, semi-detached or row house? will have the option of drying their clothes outdoors (the issue of clotheslines in condos and other high-rise buildings will be addressed separately).

It’s about time. In fact, It’s hard to believe the bans haven’t been outlawed before. As far back as 2003, the Liberals passed a conservation law that gave the province the power to eliminate the clothesline restrictions. The power has been there; the will to act hasn’t.

The original logic for the bans involved aesthetics. A line of clean laundry flapping in the breeze was considered an eyesore, a blemish that would spoil views and bring down property values.

It’s hard to believe the short-sightedness of this view. We are so close to the tipping point of destroying this planet, it may even now be too late to turn back (but don’t worry?we ought to know for sure in the next 20 or 30 years). Temperatures are rising, cases of asthma and pollution-related heart disease are increasing. During the ?90s, there were four times the number of weather-related disasters than in the 1950s.

The list goes on, yet the clothesline issue isn’t restricted to Canada; it also affects many homeowners in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal documents the backlash faced by an Oregon woman who decided to cut down on energy use by hanging some sheets out on a sunny day. Her neighbours complained. When she protested that the rules were outdated, the subdivision’s management company threatened legal action.

As one neighbour said, the ?clothesline bombards the senses.? Her concern? ?It can’t possibly increase property values and make people think this is a nice neighborhood.? Perhaps she hasn’t considered that floods, tornadoes, and scorching temperatures won’t do much for her home’s resale value either.

In the face of unprecedented environmental damage, it defies reason that anyone could still value the comparatively shallow aesthetic of clothesline-free neighbourhoods over preserving our endangered habitat. But those attitudes run deep: around 60 million people in the U.S. live in ?association governed communities, most of which restrict outdoor laundry hanging.?

Although home energy use is only one small piece of the puzzle, small things make a difference when multiplied by millions. People’s objections to clotheslines might be dying hard, but if our collective attitudes on the environment don’t take a fast leap forward, that won’t be the only thing dying.

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