I don’t talk about the specifics of my job much. Mainly that’s because I’m trying to keep people from connecting what I say about my job to my actual job. I’ve had enough trouble with that in the past. But there is something important I need to talk about relating to my job. I work in product safety, mostly with chemical hazards. And I think there is a chemical hazard that the government and the NGOs are not giving enough attention to. That is the hazard of dihydrogen monoxide.
Dihydrogen monoxide is a chemical that can be found in a wide variety of products. It is in many processed foods, especially canned foods, and has been found in a variety of popular soft drinks. It is sometimes combined with plastics to add flexibility at a low cost. It can also be found in some household cleaners.
But dihydrogen monoxide isn’t just limited to the products we use, it’s in our children. It has been shown to be bioaccumulative, and over 80% of children under the age of 12 are known to have significant levels of dihydrogen monoxide in their blood. Neither is it a benign chemical. Over exposure to dihydrogen monoxide has been shown in some studies to cause severe respiratory distress and hyponatremia in both children and adults. There are over a dozen pediatric fatalities every year that some researchers believe are directly related to dihydrogen monoxide.
Despite the dangers there is no movement on the federal or state level to seriously regulate dihydrogen monoxide, and even NGOs such as the Sierra Club and Kids in Danger have been reluctant to push for such regulation, despite other recent successes in the regulation of heavy metals and phthalates. Any such regulation would meet stiff opposition from business interests, due to dihydrogen monoxide’s industrial uses as a solvent and lubricant. Additionally there are large multi-national companies that derive a significant portion of their income from the distribution and sale of dihydrogen monoxide, many of whom have large investments in K street lobbying firms.
So if we are going to protect ourselves from the hazards of dihydrogen monoxide, we will have to do it ourselves. Be sure to watch for it in the products you buy and feed to your children. Be wary, because it is often sold under a trade name. The common trade name for dihydrogen monoxide in English speaking countries is water.
Many of you were chuckling along with me through that spiel. Some of you were maybe a little confused and skeptical. But some people were scared by it. I know because I have scared people with this before. And it is a symptom of why I hate environmentalism.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the environment. Two of the main priorities when I bought my car were good gas mileage and dependability. I fully expect it to be the last car I own, and I rarely use it. I ride my bicycle to get my groceries, and I take public transportation to work. At work I have my own towel so I don’t have to use paper ones in the bathroom, and I take my garbage into the break room so the cleaning staff doesn’t replace the plastic bags in the garbage can in my cube. I am constantly trying to find ways to consume less, both in terms of material and energy.
Perhaps that’s why I hate environmentalism, because it no longer seems to care about the environment. Most of the large environmental organizations aren’t looking for what damages the environment the most, they’re looking for what will scare you the most. If they can scare you, they can make you think that you need them, and then you will give them money. They do this because environmental organizations have begun to care more about the perpetuating the organizations than perpetuating the environment. I’m not singling out environmental organizations in this regard, it is a common failure of large organizations to forget why they were created and begin to care only about the organization itself.
But my spiel is symptomatic of another problem with environmentalism. There is a strong anti-science vein running through the environmental movement. Not all environmentalists are susceptible to it, but many are. All you have to do to get them to fear something is give it a complicated scientific name, like dihydrogen monoxide. This anti-science thread running through the movement makes it harder for those of us trying to be rational about the environment to make fact based decisions about how we live our lives. Science in general is seen as evil because it made DDT and asbestos. But science is not good or evil, it is a tool that can be used for either. That makes it a tool that can be used to help us interact with the environment less destructively. Instead it is only used when it benefits the environmental movement’s goals, and ignored or even vilified when it suggests we should move in a different direction. It is a tactic the environment’s enemies have picked up in the debate on global warming or climate change or whatever we’re calling it this week.
The fact that science can help us interact with the environment less destructively is a key point. Anything we do will harm the environment. We need to find the middle way of minimal harm that will allow both us and the environment to survive. Again, there are many environmentalists who get in the way of this. Some of biggest obstacles to major wind farms are the environmentalists themselves.
Reading Do The Math and The Conundrum has convinced me that we are in serious trouble. The damage we are doing to the environment is because of our continued growth and consumption. But if we continue to grow and consume as we have been, we will run out of energy and resources. Society as we know it will collapse. It won’t be pretty. In the short term we need to rein in our consumption and growth. A side effect of that will be lessening the damage we are doing to the environment. But we can’t view that just as a nice bonus. We need to also think about the long term, and in the long term we need to treat the environment carefully, because our survival depends on it.
I’ve been pretty lucky in my life. I’m basically a rich white guy. I haven’t had too much trouble with money in my life. But when I got out of college I took out a large (to me) loan and started a business. The business didn’t make a lot of money, and I didn’t have a lot of funds available, so I had to be careful with the money I spent. I lived in a small apartment, I looked for cheap ways to eat, I didn’t spend a lot of money on my entertainment. And a lot of people have to be a lot more careful with their money than I did back then. I think a lot of people understand the basic lesson that when you have limited resources, you have to be careful with them.
That’s where we are with the environment. It is a limited resource. There are limited amounts of gasoline, metals, arable land, and drinkable water. We need to be careful with them. We need to stop being greedy with these resources, not just because we should share with the poorer people of the world, but because we should share with our own futures.