For centuries, all men have really wanted is the opportunity to have some woman look at their underwear. We have devised myriad strategies (jobs, cars, combovers, breath fresheners) in hopes of creating just the right moment for a lovely lady to gaze at our drawers. Fortunately for the men of the world, having people look at your tighty-whiteys could now actually save the planet.

Everyone these days is “going green.” Television stations turn off the lights for 30 seconds to convince you that somehow they’re being environmentally responsible. Companies throw the “green” tag on things like cleaning products and bottled water, despite their questionable environmental value. However, some businesses have seen millions of dollars in savings by “going green.” A young professionals’ group in Milwaukee lists a green way of life as one of the top reasons young people would be attracted to a city.

Obviously, if citizens continue to buy bogus “green” products at the same rate they currently are, it won’t do a thing to help the environment. Yet often times, government and nosy neighbors can stand in the way of green activities that actually matter. For instance, local governments and neighborhood associations across the U.S. have declared war on outdoor laundry lines, citing their lack of aesthetic quality. Some environmentalists are starting to rebel, pointing out how much energy it saves to hang your clothes out to dry rather than using an electric dryer. (Plus, many of them need the extra space in their laundry rooms for all the heat lamps and aluminum foil.)

In 2005, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, there were 88 million dryers in the United States. Annually, these dryers consume 1,079 kilowatt hours of energy per household, creating 2,224 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Enter Project Laundry List, a tax-free 501(c)(3) group that claims to be fighting for individuals’ rights to leave their underwear flapping in the breeze. (The group’s website doesn’t show a Wisconsin chapter…yet.) Their website lays out the various state and local ordinances banning outdoor laundry lines, and urges introduction of “right to dry” legislation that protects the environmentally smart practice. (Several states have actually passed legislation pre-empting local governments’ right to ban laundry lines.)

The site also contains testimonials of people who associate laundry lines with the simpler days of yore, when they played in the backyard as children amongst drying laundry. Laundry line advocates also point out that hanging up clothes outside involves physical activity and spending more time outside with your neighbors – things society could use more of. (Then again, in the old days, there was less of a chance of some dirtbag stealing your bra so he could sell it to buy meth.)

Yet neighborhood associations (which rank somewhere between al-Qaeda and rat poison in public favorability rankings) maintain their right to promote pleasing aesthetics within their fiefdoms. They think nobody wants to see their neighbors’ unmentionables in public. (If you knew my neighbors, you’d recognize this as a valid concern.) It has been said that outdoor laundry is seen by some as a “flag of poverty”

This begs a larger question – how involved does government (or a neighborhood association) have to be in protecting us from the horrors of seeing things we don’t like? Government surely isn’t going to come in and force your co-worker to trim his gross nose hair. There’s no reason we need laws to ban us from having to view laundry. If you don’t like the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside world, go live in a bunker.

As in any case of public/private rights conflicts, accommodations can be made. Outdoor laundry can be limited to the back yard, to protect the most sensitive of citizens from having to see a skid mark on their stroll through the neighborhood. Outdoor drying can be allowed on one day per week. There are options here.

Few opportunities arise where people can make a meaningful environmental difference and save money at the same time. Our government just needs to throw us a line.

-July 8, 2008