Carbon emission cutback and laundry

The New Scientist reports on a research about how the US carbon emission could be reduced by changing household actions.

If only Americans would hang their laundry out to dry – and commit 16 other acts of environmental kindness – they could slash US carbon dioxide emissions by 7.4 per cent by 2019.

Well. They didn’t read the article exactly right because it doesn’t speak of 16 clear cut actions like car pooling and line drying, but it speaks of 17 categories of actions, but that’s not why I got irked.

Other actions included in the article make complete and utter practical sense, like insulating houses, minding stand-by functions of electrical applyances and such. They do not take a lot of time and they don’t even diminish comfort of living. And I do think it is absolutely defendable that it would be better to give up comfort for the future of the planet, to some degree.

However, I am sure that if we would all go back to not just line drying – and why not go back to doing the laundry by hand altogether? – that would save a lot on carbon emission, but effectively, who are going to be the ones to end up doing that? Rrrright.

15 thoughts on “Carbon emission cutback and laundry

  1. There’s also the teensy problem that in many places in the US it is illegal to hang one’s washing out to dry. Yes, illegal.

  2. I actually do handwash and line dry all my laundry (and I live in an urban neighborhood). I fully admit this is due to the fact there’s no washer/dryer in my building and the laundromat is insanely far away.

    However, that said, it really isn’t anymore time-consuming than going to a laundromat PLUS you get the added bonus of an upper-body workout. (Wringing out wet clothes is surprisingly hard work).

    Also, to Jender, hanging them out may be illegal, but you can use a clothes bar. That’s what I do.

  3. i line dry, as do most people in britain. why would this make life more difficult? it’s not as if you’re drying them by force of your own effort. the air dries them.

  4. Hi – I can’t find the “contact” category to click on in order to send this as an email, so I apologize for posting something off-topic in a thread. It is something the readership here may find interesting: the Philosophy of Science Association’s Women’s Caucus is starting up a prize for the best work in feminist philosophy of science, both in general and by a younger scholar (two separate awards). This will be announced at the biennial PSA meetings, and involves a cash award. Fundraising is currently going on for an endowment to fund the prizes, and the more money is initially raised, the more credibility the prize has when the organizers go to the general membership. Consider donating to this, even if you are not in philosophy of science.

    Info about the prize and for donation can be found at

  5. hkandersen,

    That’s an important announcement and I’ll put it up in a separate post. Let me remark here, though, that the discipline is full of mail-challenged people (I am one, for example), and a paypal account would make things much easier and probably bring in quite a bit more money.

  6. This is something I noticed in Japan: almost no one there uses a dryer. I had to get used to line drying. Now, I live in Hawaii, where there’s also a lot of line drying. I currently line dry my button up shirts and pants but not my t-shirts, shorts, etc. It can be time consuming to hang small things on the line, but for button up shirts and pants, it’s no more time consuming than the final folding will be anyway and when hung they’re already in the right shape for putting away.

    Anyway, I do think Americans should go back to line drying more often. It’s a pure luxury to use a dryer when clothes can just dry themselves naturally. Sometimes it makes sense as a trade off of time and effort but not always.

  7. I’m just about to write a couple of paragraphs on meaning holism, and I’m wondering if there aren’t something like holism problems here. Dryers and drying are tied up with lots of industries and the activities involved in line drying can tax different people quite differently. Some older women have slipped and broken their hips when they’ve been hanging out the clothes, for one thing. Other people make their living by building or fixing dryers. There are parts manufacturers and parts distributors. And so on.

    This doesn’t make me want to avoid recommending things like line drying, but it does lead me to wonder what I’m doing. I think in this case, I’d be happy to recommend that a lot of dryer producing plants do close down, and that the manufacturing of dryer sheets be curtailed. But part of that is that I’m having trouble imagining that an action of mine could lead to all the misery the lost jobs could cause.

    But perhaps the idea is that a growing movement to change would put gradual pressure on things, so there wouldn’t be a sudden cut in thousands of jobs. Or perhaps one should see oneself as deciding for oneself and maybe recommending actions to some others, but in a way that is after all very limited in its power.

    I hope this is clear. It might illustrate that one should pause for a while in between writing about Quine and thinking about laundry. :)

  8. On holism: I notice that even in the original article that not a mention is given to meal preparation and animal products. But when you suggest that this is the best step individuals can take towards reducing carbon emissions (, , the suggestion receives the same “holism” response. But what about the people whose jobs are in slaughtering animals? And to be honest it’s just a bit of a pain for everyone to learn about vegetarian/vegan nutrition & cuisine, remember to buy new ingredients and prepare different meals. We can’t do that by tomorrow! As though *seriously* anyone was considering shutting down the meat & dairy or tumbledryer industries tomorrow.

    That’s fine: a good consequentialist considers all of the consequences, including the people who make dryer parts, those who slip and fall hanging out the washing (although I’ve not seen any reports of this in Australia where line-drying is common) and those who work in the abattoirs.

    But the people making the arguments usually are consequentialists who have thought all the way through: the long term benefits to the climate and future generations of humans and nonhumans significantly outweigh the short-term inconveniences/job retraining/slippages etc. It’s recognised that incremental reform is required to achieve the long-term goals, and that the threats associated with an overnight transformation aren’t real.

    Of course having said that there are short-term benefits to changing habits too, e.g. reduced energy/food bills, less wear on clothes etc. Holism is holism.

  9. A couple of things about the burden of effort of changing domestic practices falling on women:

    – Any changes to domestic practices will disproportionally fall onto women, because they hold a disproportional amoutn of responsibility in that sphere, so unless we are prepared to leave the entire domestic dialectic to appliance marketers, we’re not going to get away from that one

    – The majority of time- and effort-saving devices introduced into the home in the modern era have not actually saved any effort for women, because the standards and expectations of a well-maintained home just keep climbing to keep pace with the gadgets we use to do the maintaining. It’s reasonable to suppose that the process would, in time, work backwards as well: if everyone went back to hand-washing clothes, it would no longer be considered “gross” to wear a t-shirt for more than one morning etc.

    So as environmentalists, we can work towards changing domestic habits, while at the same time, as feminists, work towards a more equal distribution of labour. I don’t see a contradiction.

  10. I well remember my mother hanging things out to dry when I was a child. We lived in a very cold area. She found it a miserable experience, for at least 7-8 months of the year, to wrestle with wet clothes when it is cold outside. (For a family of five, there was not enough room to hang them in our little house.) And there was always the risk that the clothes would be rained or snowed on. (In highly polluted areas, line-dried clothes may come back in dirtier than when they went out.) And then, in the winter, the clothes would often freeze on the line, and have to brought in, stiff as a board.
    I was the designated ironer in the family, and I can tell you there is much more ironing to do when clothes are line-dried. Clothes dry in wrinkles, when they are hung, whereas many clothes dried in a dryer need no ironing.
    For all these reasons, I am delighted that 21st century life allows the use of a dryer. I do feel some guilt about it. But then again, I eat no meat products. I think if all, or at least most, of us gave up meat, we would compensate for a lot of dryers (not to mention allowing agricultural land to produce food for human beings rather than for non-human beings that are destined only to be slaughtered and eaten.)

  11. Oh well, it goes without saying that we shouldn’t be taking steps to protect the environment by reducing our carbon footprint if it’s inconvenient.

  12. I think it is problematic when the burden comes down to women again, when it’s ok to suggest line drying, as it comes across to me that there is this offhand dismissing of women’s investing time.
    I see they don’t suggest to replace lawns with something that doesn’t have to be mowed with a machine every week in summer, they don’t suggest not to leave the car at all and go all public transport, etc. So what they suggest is that those things are so easy to do.
    There is no doubt that reducing the carbon footprint is inconvenient, but let’s not start “easy and simple” with making it tougher on women (those who agree that it’s a bother, and the argument that it comes off more wrinkled is valid, so there is the ironing too).

  13. Maybe the authors didn’t mean any kind of slight against women. Maybe they thought that line drying would be a really simple way to save energy.

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