Environmental complexities of the modern dishwasher

Environmental complexities of the modern dishwasherRecently our faithful dishwasher of 17 years sprang more leaks than a soaker hose, and the summoned repairman began mumbling the last rites. Sorting out an environmentally friendly replacement in these water and energy-starved times was not a simple exercise, however. Would that I had the decisiveness the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the National Party show in approaching such matters.

You see, our ancient machine came from an age when dishwashers only had one or two cycles, and were plumbed directly into the hot water system. These days, I found, almost all dishwashers start with cold water, and heat it to precisely the temperature necessary for a specific wash or rinse in a specific cycle programmed to clean dishes in any one of a dozen different ways. So, the repairman told us, a new dishwasher would require changing our fitting to the cold water tap, and involve a plumber.

But isn’t it wasteful of energy to have to heat the water inside the dishwasher each time?, I naively asked. Oh, no, said the repairman, shocked at my ignorance. These modern units use so little water, that it barely makes any difference in energy use. And, having the water at precisely the right temperature does a much better job, and cuts the amount of polluting detergent you have to use.

When the delivery man arrived with the new dishwasher, he discovered he couldn’t install it, because we needed a plumber to change the fitting to the cold tap. Why don’t you just put it on the hot like before?, he asked. I virtuously repeated what the repairman had told me. No need to worry about that, he said. The machine will only use pretty much the water that’s already in the pipe from the hot water service, and it will be cold. And if you’re concerned that you can’t make full use of all your different cycles, nobody I know uses anything but the normal cycle anyway.

The only thing that was obvious to me was how little I knew of the environmental complexities of the modern dishwasher. How would I cope with buying a new microwave, let alone a nuclear reactor? So, imagine my admiration when I read that the Prime Minister has already determined that nuclear power is clean and green, and can’t understand why everyone isn’t behind it.

Environmental complexities of the modern dishwasherWhere I would have been left floundering, asking questions about the greenhouse gas emissions of producing the concrete to construct a safely-contained and terrorist-proof power station; or how much energy it takes to isolate and protect high-level nuclear wastes for hundreds of thousands of years; or how much fossil fuel is used to mine and enrich uranium, Mr Howard has already determined the answer. Nuclear power is green. And he’s done it weeks in advance of the report of the expert panel convened under Dr Ziggy Switkowski.

And where I—and evidently Dr Switkowski, judging from reported comments—am confused about just how we can prevent Australian uranium from contributing to the seemingly inexorable spread of nuclear weapons, the Prime Minister assures us that nuclear power is clean. Which means he must also know how we are going to dispose of the nuclear waste and decommission the power stations at the end of their useful life.

His clear-sightedness seems to be matched by the National Party who at their last national conference passed all sorts of measures encouraging the production of bio-fuels. Aside from boring old concerns about employing arable land to produce energy, rather than food, in a world where people still starve, the National politicians must have "done the numbers" on the environmental gains of producing ethanol from crops in Australia.

Pictured: Dr Ziggy ZwitkowskiThat means taking into account the consumption of water, the energy content of applied fertilisers and insecticides which are typically made from fossil fuels, and just how much petrol and diesel are used in growing and processing biofuels. In the studies I’ve seen, the estimated greenhouse gas emission gains from bio-ethanol vary from zero to about 15 per cent, with a typical figure of below 10 per cent. It doesn’t seem vast.

Because of the intricate nature of all the interactions involved, the best course of action in environmental matters is rarely clear or obvious. I’m just grateful we have such decisive political leaders who can sort their way through these complicated issues, and carefully weigh up the consequences of their actions, which usually extend far, far beyond the time to the next election.

So, Prime Minister, having already advised us all of the material benefits of uranium mining and nuclear power, perhaps you could now devote some time to helping me out with my dishwasher…



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