Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Topic of Current Interest

OK, I am going to get in trouble for this but it has to be said. Environmentalists as a group tend to be self righteous and inconsistent. Take Jabba the Hut ... I mean Al Gore and his Nobel Prize for Environmentalism. It seems that his movement itself does not seek carbon friendly alternatives for transportation and he has not significantly changed his own mansion or lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly. It is always easier to harangue others and make them feel shame then to change ones own behaviour. Perhaps that is why the modern media take delight in pointing out hypocritical inconsistencies in the lives of evangelists. Life is hard in the unblinking light at the top of the pedestal.

So, there is a chemistry blog that I monitor and the young man that maintains the site has been blessed with a child. This prompted a debate on the disposable versus cloth issue.

LINK TO BLOG: Milo's Chemical Musings

Now, thankfully our family has ceased to be blessed with children and ours are graduating high school and getting drivers licences. I would expect that the next time we have to discuss the whole disposable vs cloth debate will be when the children have children or when I become incontinent (probably a close race). I do remember however the horror and pain inflicted on my wife and I when we openly (and one might say gratefully) mostly used disposable diapers. It seemed that people we did not know would go out of their way to let us know the damage that we were inflicting on the environment by using the Devil's Nappies.
Now, there is a whole articulated debate out there about the issue and if one counts the "whole cost" of cloth diapers they seem to not be as benign as originally advertised. And that is one point that bugs me about environmentalists. In any accounting they make of the cost of an item they endorse they assume that time = $ 0. I mean, they invoke an earlier, simpler time when rural folk naturally "reduced-reused-recycled". What they forget is that that ethos was developed between the twin grinding stones of Poverty and Necessity.

You can see them in your churches. They are dying out now, in the same way that our war veterans are passing from society. They are older women who have lived the "simple life". And while it absolutely consumed them the pressure also changed them into the beautiful saints that they are now. (Of course, that also means that they cannot throw out a bread bag or moldy food but that is another point for another day). No these women, and reduce-reuse-recycle always depended on the women, lived in a time when there wasn't money for new anything. They had to make babies, fix meals, clothe the babies and chop wood (more often than not on the same day). This task consumed them and their bent and quite often broken bodies are testament to the harshness of their lives. This was also the reason why a lot of farmers where I grew up buried three wives before they died. Mormon farmers were just parallel not serial husbands, I would like to know if Mormon wives in polygamous marriages lived longer.

My point is that labour is never free. Environmentalists always assume that people will forgo luxury and pleasure AT THEIR OWN COST for the warm glow of environmentalism. That gets me to me second point on inconsistency. Let's take the disposable diaper and assume that Junior soils five diapers a day for a year and half (about 600 days) so that means the "waste load" = 3000 soiled diapers. Each soiled diaper might have the mass of half a kilogram (we had big babies) so that is 1500 kilograms of waste.

Now, let's examine the issue of consistency (and this is where you WILL be offended). I want to address an issue that no man may discuss. As any man has thought (but never said for this is one of those things that cannot be discussed) ... Have any of you ever noticed the similarity between advertisements for diapers and "feminine protection". They use the same words and the same illustrations. When they want to show how absorbent a diaper is they pull out a graduated cylinder with a blue liquid in it and pour it onto the diaper while extolling the "absorbency and dryness" of the item in question. Then the feminine napkin ad comes on and they do the exact same thing. I must confess the idea of a thick blue liquid coming out of my body creeps me out but this wouldn't be the first day that I thanked the good Lord for making me a stand-up pee-er.

Any man that has gotten lost in Shoppers and wandered into "The Valley of the Pads" knows that in fact there is an amazing complexity to "feminine protection" that we can never understand or even contemplate. Then of course there is the napkin versus plug debate that again most men can't think about.
Can we agree that in essence a feminine napkin is a small diaper? Now then let's do some math. If we assume that a woman needs "protection" for 13 weeks a year over 40 years (from age 12 to 52). By the way, does anyone else think that the word "protection" in this context is a bit odd? So anyway, if we have a woman using an average of 3 pads a day for 7 days for 13 weeks a year for 40 years we have a total of 10,920 pads. Math rocks.

Now, I know that pads are smaller than diapers but I would assume that 3000 soiled diapers are at least somewhat in the same ballpark as an environmental problem as 10,920 pads. And ask yourself the garbage man's question: which would you rather stick your hand into ... a used diaper or a used pad? So here we are ... why have the environmentalists not taken on the feminine protection industry in the same way they have the disposable diaper industry? My guess ... PMS.

How do you tell the difference between a woman with PMS and a terrorist?
You can negotiate with a terrorist.
How do you tell the difference between a woman with PMS and a pit bull?
I got a million of them, I'm here all week ... try the fish.

I mean, imagine you are an environmentalist and you have a choice between making a woman feel guilty about being a lazy mother who uses disposable diapers and telling that same woman just before she needs them that she shouldn't use disposable napkins. Well, no one ever accused the environmentalists of being stupid, just mean and inconsistent. It is always easy to make women guilty and insecure about motherhood ... and it is always heartless.

No, the environmentalist lobby will go a long way towards consistency when they start spreading the news that 13 weeks a year a woman needs to be closeted with cloth napkins and a bucket of hot water. Until that day, let's agree to leave the whole disposable versus cloth diaper debate behind us (if you will forgive a little joke at the end ... oops I did it again there didn't I ... sorry about that shout out for Brittany ... now there is a lady we can all get behind ... ugh that was really bad, maybe I will just settle for Good night and Good luck).

PS. A quote on diapers that I like.

Reason says “Why must I rock the baby, wash its nappies, change its bed, smell its odour, heal its rash? It is better to remain single and live a quiet and carefree life. I will become a priest or a nun and tell my children to do the same.
Christian Faith replies: The father opens his eyes, looks at these lowly, distasteful and despised things and knows that they are adorned with divine approval as with the most precious gold or silver. God with his angels and creatures will smile – not because the nappies are washed, but because they are done in faith.” Martin Luther, Concerning Married Life


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Ψ*Ψ said...

Um, there ARE options available. Lunapads? The Diva Cup?
Or not menstruating at all, if you're lucky: courtesy of Depo-Provera, Seasonique, or some IUDs.

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

Man, I would love that if an environmentalist came out supporting the complete biochemical subversion of a natural cycle. Yes, all those things are out there but they are not pushed the same way that cloth diapers are pushed.

Ψ*Ψ said...

Hmm, I guess you have a point about the diapers there. Fortunately, no one is trying to push them on me, so I get to remain blissfully ignorant. Yay!
Um, I am kind of a tree-hugger of sorts. (But not the crazy chemophobe-ELF-psycho kind.) I'm even working in an environmental analysis lab. And (TMI?) endometriosis means it's a REALLY BAD IDEA for me to bleed. I'll support pretty much anything that lets me (and way too many other women who have the same cureless condition) avoid being completely immobilized by pain for two weeks out of every month.

I'm annoyed by those who cry "but the economy!" at the thought of tightening regulations. Why can't we see it as an engineering challenge? It's dangerous to be too complacent. But too many people on the other side of that line take the wrong approach to environmentalism. Stupid little things like "reducing your personal carbon footprint!" don't really have any effect at all. It takes action on a larger scale to do some good. Greener construction can cut building energy usage by about half, if done correctly. (Check out some statistics on energy usage for large office-like buildings sometime. It's almost shocking how wasteful they are.) Mass-transit improvements could do a lot of good, especially cities like mine where so many people commute from satellite towns at least forty minutes away. I know a lot of people who would take on a little inconvenience to be able to take a train to work (and thereby save on gas AND avoid bad Lexington drivers like me). Cutting down on energy usage in large-scale sensible ways is something we should all be trying to do in the first place. After all, energy is expensive, and everyone wants to save money, right?

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.