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April 11, 2017

Something’s missing

April 22 has in recent times come into its own as a pseudo-holiday when organizers try to turn the country’s attention to environmental concerns. I’m all for keeping the environment clean – who isn’t? It’s like being for motherhood and apple pie. Yet I take a pass on all the Earth Day tree hugging. That’s because I’m tired of seeing a celebration of Mother Earth morph into a political whine-fest of climate change propaganda and associated left-wing causes that make villains out of people who produce the fossil fuels and other products that have played a big role in making us the wealthiest society in human history.

image of girl with clean waterBesides, there’s something missing from the Earth Day agenda everywhere it takes place. Environmental activists fall all over themselves patting one another on the back for protesting and disrupting progress, yet they fail to acknowledge the most noteworthy environmentalists in our society.

I’m referring to the plumbers who bring fresh water into all of our homes and buildings and get rid of the human waste that used to breed horrible epidemics. I’m referring as well to the electricians who have harnessed Thomas Edison’s discovery to turn night into day and made possible all of the electronic wonders that save lives. And let’s not forget the HVAC technicians who prevent us from freezing to death on the coldest winter days and from heat exhaustion when the sun cranks itself up mercilessly.

It’s not at all an exaggeration to declare these fields the “environmental trades.” I wish the term would catch on, because it is an accurate description of what these immensely skilled workers contribute to our society.

It’s not just me saying so. Dr. Lewis Thomas was a medical researcher who was also a prolific author. Way back in 1984 I read an article by him in the journal Foreign Affairs that I’ve quoted from numerous times when writing for a plumbing industry audience. Here I go again, in the words of the late Dr. Lewis Thomas:

“There is no question that our health has improved spectacularly in the past century. One thing seems certain: It did not happen because of medicine, or medical science, or even the presence of doctors.

“Much of the credit should go to the plumbers and engineers of the Western world. The contamination of drinking water by human feces was at one time the greatest cause of human disease and death for us; it remains so, along with starvation and malaria, for the Third World. Typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery were the chief threats to survival in the early years of the 19th century in New York City, and when the plumbers and sanitary engineers had done their work in the construction of our cities, these diseases began to vanish. Today, cholera is unheard of in this country, but it would surely reappear if we went back to the old-fashioned ways of finding water to drink.”

How bad was it back then? Allow me to share with you are little background that reverberates in our modern world.

You may be familiar with the term “loo,” which is British slang for a bathroom or toilet. That word evolved from the French expression, gardez l’eau. It was something people in the Middle Ages customarily would shout out before they emptied their chamber pots into the street. It means, “watch out for the water.” (L’eau is pronounced in French like our “low” but over the years it evolved into an Anglicized “loo.”)

That’s how people lived before modern plumbing. They did their business in outhouses or into pots that had to be emptied into public streets. Imagine living in those conditions. Imagine the flies, the stench, the diseases and all the other misery associated with human waste in close proximity to living quarters almost everywhere.

Imagine reading only by oil lamps and candles at night. Imagine trying to keep warm around a fireplace in below-zero conditions. Imagine no relief from 100-degree-plus temperatures except whatever hand-fan you could come up with.

Go ahead and celebrate Earth Day. Just at some point brush the bark away from all the tree hugging and take a moment to give thanks to all those who work or aspire to work in the environmental trades. They are among society’s unsung heroes.