Skip to main content

Dishwasher or No Dishwasher? That Is the Question.

Dishwasher Honestly, we like the folks in the environmental movement a lot, even if their more zealous activities can make some of them easy targets for fun and snark. Maybe it's that environmentalism has a high appeal to younger folk who get their first taste of activism and run wild with it. Maybe it's that the green sands are so shifty it can be hard to maintain ideological purity without tipping into a sandals-and-earnestness trap. Nothing like being hip and a bore at the same time - you can find yourself alienating all your friends at once.

But fair is fair, and we think The New York Times is being signally unfair when it weighs in on green overload:

Two years after “An Inconvenient Truth” helped unleash a new tide of environmental activism, green noise pulses through the collective consciousness from all directions. The news media issues dire reports about disappearing polar bears; Web sites feature Brad Pitt arriving at a movie premiere in his hydrogen-powered BMW; bookstore shelves are piled high with titles like “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth”; shops carry hemp-enriched shampoo and 100-percent organic cotton tampons.

Probably could have done without some of those details, but the idea is that while green may seem the new black, it has rapidly lost cache in a media- and marketing-driven orgy of opportunism.

“What we’ve been seeing in focus groups is a real green backlash,” Ms. [Suzanne C.] Shelton said. Over the last six months, she added, when the agency screened environmentally themed advertisements, “we see over half the room roll their eyes: ‘Not another green message.’ ”

Shelton runs an ad agency, though the article seems loath to point out that it is the marketers and advertisers of the world that are most to blame for this state of affairs.

Now, we should note that the NYT, and especially writer Alex Williams, who put quill to paper for this one, delight in manufacturing trendless trend pieces. Take this, for example:

“I would be a much more productive member of society if I didn’t have to worry about, ‘Should I wash dishes by hand or run the dishwasher?’ ” said Erik Michaels-Ober, a 24-year-old software engineer in San Francisco. “There are all sorts of conflicting stories about that.”

When you get to something like that, you know you're in the thickets with a reporter straining hard enough to develop mental hemorrhoids. (No offense to Mr. Michaels-Ober, who got roped into this, but really - the photo indicates he's a single guy, so what's he doing dishes-wise, feeding the Norwegian army?)

It may sound as though we're rapping the folks here who are trying to wrap their minds around environment issues, but really, the rap is against the Times. This articles takes as its template the argument often used against environmental advocacy - that earnestness shades into silliness when it's taken beyond practical limits. (You could call it the PETA effect.) The net result is to downgrade environmental arguments as crackpot. The timing of this article, with much discussion over offshore drilling now occurring, feels highly suspect, a way to clear out rhetorical deadwood en route to a highly contentious public policy change.

That may well be oversensitivity, but we found our antennae twitching uncomfortably on this one. Not that we'll be taking our most devoted green friend out for a dinner of rocks and twigs, but fair is fair.

Drawing is of a dishwasher. If Mr. Michaels-Ober has a blog, maybe we can help him figure out his dish washing dilemma.

Comments

BillDoublewide said…
The dishwasher uses much less water than washing by hand. However, it will obviously use more electricity. I think if you were to run on a timer in the middle of the night when demand is low, or if you have a "green" source of electricty, the dishwasher is the 'green' way.

We have six kids so we run it whenever it is full, about twice a day. Of course, I don't believe in AGW, so I don't worry too much about it.
Erik Michaels-Ober said…
Thank you for the advice. It is indicative of my point: the answer is not so simple. I have to consider which is a more valuable resource: water or electricity. This level of complication makes it hard for well-meaning members of society to decide how best to use shared resources.

If my dilemma was narrowly limited to dishwashing, I'm confident I could always make the right decision, but modern life is filled with decisions of this sort. Should I commute by bus or by train? When I travel to Los Angeles, should I fly or drive? Perhaps it's most efficient to always use disposable dishes, which never need to be washed. If that's the case, should I choose paper or plastic?

Obviously, my individual decisions will not make or break the environment. But the fact that I spend time thinking about them is woefully inefficient. I should not have to become an expert on these matters and do my own research. I would prefer government (or a trusted, independent organization) to provide definitive recommendations, so that I, and well-meaning people like me, wouldn't have to answer these questions ourselves.

When you say you don't believe in anthropogenic global warming, is your belief that human carbon dioxide emissions have no effect on climate whatsoever? What do you think happens to carbon dioxide when it enters the atmosphere? Do you not accept the greenhouse effect?
BillDoublewide said…
Obviously manmade CO2 goes into the atmosphere, and it does have an impact. However, I have yet to be convinced that the impact is significant or measurable, or that it is not mitigated or entirely swamped by other effects, especially solar variations. Pre-industrial history influences me here.

And, even if it were, it is impossible for the developed western world to reduce worldwide CO2 emissions. And even if we could, any cost-benefit analysis will (and has) shown that adapting to climate change has an enormously smaller human cost that reducing CO2 output.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …