A View From the Cheap Seats

January 27, 2010

Pollution Is The Cure

Filed under: Environment,Illinois,Politics,Science — trzupek @ 10:33 pm


By Rich Trzupek

One great thing about global warming is that it causes everything, including cooling according to many environmental groups, and earthquakes, according to Danny Glover. Another great thing about global warming is that you can use it as an excuse to do, or not do, just about anything. Case in point: global warming serves as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s (MWRD) latest excuse for not disinfecting waste water entering the Chicago River.

There is an old adage in the world of environmental science: dilution is not the solution to pollution. We now have the MWRD corollary: pollution is the solution to pollution.

Now I can not say whether all the extra bacteria that MWRD introduces into the river threatens the waterway. District representatives say no and perhaps we should take them at the word. It is interesting to note, however, that practically every other sewage treatment operation in the country feels it’s important to disinfect their wastewater. But to claim that disinfecting wastewater would cause global warming? Please.

The theory, such as it is, is that disinfecting would require the district to use additional electricity, which in turn would increase MWRD’s carbon footprint by almost 100,000 tons. There is a flip side to that equation however, one I doubt factors into the district’s calculations. When biological matter dies and decays, it often creates methane, a global warming gas twenty one times more potent that carbon dioxide. Do that math and I doubt if MWRD’s spurious argument even holds up.

But really, 100,000 tons? That’s a drop in the bucket greenhouse gas wise. Still, MWRD is simply taking a creative, if ridiculous step along the green road that has been so well traveled by so many. “Going green” is very often simply a corporate excuse to make their product cheaper, cut services or both. Sure it’s good for the bottom line, but that’s not why they do it – it’s all about saving the planet.

Sure it is.

You can argue global warming about virtually any side of any issue. Going paperless saves the planer, because you cut down trees to make paper and trees absorb nasty old carbon dioxide. However, it is also true that paper companies plant more trees than they use. As a friend of mine likes to say, every time you hit the “print” button it’s like placing an order for another tree. So using paper also saves the planet.

Using ethanol saves the planet, because it’s a renewable fuel and does not introduce additional carbon in the eco-system. However, it takes more energy to make ethanol than ethanol provides (at most ethanol plants anyway) and most of the energy to run ethanol plants comes from burning fossil fuels. So not burning ethanol also saves the planet.

Using fluorescent light bulbs saves the planet because they use less energy. However, old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs give off a lot more heat than their fluorescent cousins and, in the winter at least, using them will mean that you burn a marginally (but measurable) lesser amount of natural gas in your home heating furnace. So using incandescent bulbs also saves the planet.

I’m only talking partially tongue in cheek here. The point being that, with a little bit of creativity, one can credit almost anything that anybody does with a helping to save the planet. It’s a scam within a scam and it’s pretty darn profitable for those involved in it. Why wouldn’t the MWRD jump on the bandwagon?

Two and a half years ago, MWRD jumped on BP-Amoco for a marginal (in the scheme of things) increase in the amount of ammonia and dissolved solids that would be discharged from the Whiting refinery’s water treatment system. As I wrote at the time, the amount of pollutants that BP-Amoco discharges into Lake Michigan is a footnote compared to the MWRD’s contribution. People who live in glass houses should not be tossing stones into Whiting.

This latest episode further exposes the District’s hypocrisy. It’s an organization dominated by political hacks whose idea of going green has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with their balance sheet.

I’m OK with that. I truly am. I just wish that MWRD had the guts to admit their real motivation instead of hiding behind the tattered cloak of environmental protectionism.

But then since everybody else does it, I guess MWRD figured: “why not?”


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