For some years, I have been trying to squeeze out a book on Project Laundry List and the “right to dry” movement. It will, if the editors permit, start with a parable about the time when I appeared in Bill McKibben’s office and was offered a Hershey’s Kiss from a half-finished bag on his bookshelf. I said, “Dr. Helen Caldicott would not want me to eat that, because it was made near Three Mile Island.” McKibben’s reaction, though he remembers it a bit differently, was along the lines of “don’t be ridiculous, the only thing that matters is that little black molecule called carbon dioxide.” A week later, I was at MIT listening to the preeminent expert on endocrine disrupters, Dr. Theo Colburn. This octogenarian proclaimed with the gusto of a zealot, something along the lines of, “We don’t need to worry about climate change or nuclear winter, because the toxins we are putting in the environment will decimate our species first.” My conclusion: The only thing that matters is the laundry.
The re-established board of directors for Project Laundry List, who will be introduced to you in this newsletter, has decided on a message that affirms this. “Laundry is a big deal!” proclaims our internal marketing plan. On what do we base this enthusiastic claim? In part, on a July 2013 article by Opower, whose disheartening investigation demonstrates how Project Laundry List has a lot of work yet to do. To learn what Barry Fischer and Nate Kaufman conclude in this fascinating research, we hope you will hop over to their site. We provide a link in this newsletter.
Our main project at the moment is trying to advance a petition to get The White House to publicly line-dry. This would send a powerful signal to millions of American households, but we have been told that he won’t do it because he is black and the clothesline is stigmatized in the United States as a tool of the poor. If the next president is a woman, she might not give it the nod either, because laundry is still the domain of women in more than two-thirds of American households—a division of labor that we are not particularly eager to reinforce ourselves, but a reality that will not be changed by avoiding installation of a White House clothesline. In fact, it might provide impetus for a needed conversation.
As I re-engage with this laundry work and as new and old board members wrestle with how much to invest in our project—financially and in terms of time—I am wrestling with some big questions about the importance and relevance of what we do. My essay in this issue calls for a new protocol. In short, I believe that only mitigation efforts that cost very little money or do not create other foreseeable planet-altering problems are now worthwhile. (“The only thing that matters is the laundry.”) Major public and private investment, at this point, should be in adaptation strategies, but we should all cold-water wash and line dry.
Walk in balance,