Life on Earth vs. Sparkly Dishes

 While our culture tends to place too much emphasis on individual initiative in the face of society-wide (and even global problems), some things just get to you.

 Heard a report on NPR last week that started by describing a mysterious problem some households were having with their dishwashers. Seems the dishes were coming out spotty.

 Why was this on the radio? It turns out the cause of the complaints was that some states have banned phosphates in dishwashing detergent. Phosphates are the ingredient that make dishes shine, apparently. But when your dishwashing water reaches the river, phosphates do something else: They cause algae blooms, sucking up all the oxygen and effectively making large areas of these bodies of water uninhabitable for other forms of life.

 Here’s the part that got me. One woman NPR interviewed said, first, that she “wasn’t sure she believed” that phosphates kill rivers. (OK – decades of scientific research must be wrong on that one. She “believes” differently, which is the new evidentiary standard in a country where most people don’t accept that evolution happens.)

 Then, better yet, the woman tells how she got her dish sparkle back: Now she goes to the hardware store, buys sodium phosphate, and like a junior-high chemist mixes it into her detergent.

 So here’s a case where government acted responsibly, and on an appropriately large scale, to eliminate one large source of a pollutant that’s doing a lot of harm. And this person – and I’m sure there are more like her – threw it all over so she could be sure to see her reflection in the flatware.

It reminds me of some poll results I heard a few years ago, that something like half of American surveyed said they wouldn’t even go to the trouble of changing a light bulb to conserve energy (a move that would save them money, too).

Set aside the far-reaching legislation we need to reduce our contributions to greenhouse gasses. If so many people feel the need to circumvent a common-sense law that creates only a minor inconvience – if they think sparkly dishes are more important than life on earth – there really isn’t much hope.

Arguing otherwise too often feels like trying to teach a fish to breathe algae.

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