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Contaminationphobia

24 May 2008

if you visit American cities,
you will find them very pretty.
Only two things you must be aware:
Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.

-Tom Lehrer

Recently there’s been a large hulaballoo about this report on contaminants in our tap water. I was neither surprised nor outraged to hear about this. What did surprise me however, was how much everybody acted as if they didn’t know about it. We live in a closed system; it only makes sense that what we put into the water is going to end up coming out of our faucets.

But really, I don’t think this is such a big deal, at least not for humans. It’s not cholera or giardia or dysentery. In the developed world, we’re doing pretty good regarding those nasty things. So in that sense, I think we’re doing a pretty good job. The water we drink is much less contaminated than it used to be. Heck, it’s clear – that’s an improvement than a century ago when the water could be so cloudy that Ivory Soap was invented to float so you wouldn’t have trouble finding it at the bottom of your bathtub.

What we put into our own systems doesn’t bother me so much. Even with all the lead, the asbestos, the drugs, and all the other toxins the media is always trumpeting about, the human lifespan is has increased amazingly, and is still improving. I mean, I suspect what we are so alarmed about finding in our system has been there for a lot longer than we think, it’s just that we didn’t have the technology to see it, since the concentration is so dilute.

It’s the media’s fault, really. When they get bored reporting on war, famine, recession, and whatever other flavor of doom of the day, contamination makes a pretty good choice. People are scared. They are careless of what what they put into the system but paranoid about what they put into themselves (excepting fats and empty calories). And shock tactics work well for holding an audience.

No, what bothers me is what we’re putting into the system of the rest of the world. Killing off animals with toxic waste, choking our air with smoke, and our water with oil. Contaminating pure strains of crops with GMO DNA, rendering it inedible. If only humans were affected by what we do, it wouldn’t bother me so much. Not that that means I don’t think we shouldn’t stop killing ourselves slowly, but rather that I think it’s just as important that we realize that we’re not the only ones here. If we were, well, we wouldn’t be here for much longer. We need to respect this planet and everything else that lives on it. It is a matter of our very survival.

I’ve always found it ironic that human are supposed to be the most evolutionarily advanced species on the planet, and yet, we seem to be the ones with a poorly developed survival instinct.

In a way, I suppose I should be grateful for our nation’s contaminationphobia. Since it’s finally getting people to stop and think that maybe they don’t want to let industry to put all those toxic chemicals into our waterstream and that maybe waste output should be regulated closer. It would be about time.

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