When I heard Congress passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last week, I got super excited. Then I remembered the English soil scientist I interviewed in 2009, and my heart sunk. I will now take your questions.

Q: Why were you interviewing an English soil scientist in 2009?

A:  It was for an article I was writing. The scientist was concerned about an impending global phosphorus shortage. According to his research, the world was down to a mere 90-year supply — and crops can’t grow without it.

Q: And we have just 90 years left?

A: That was in 2009, so it’s 79 years now. But not everyone agrees. The International Fertilizer Industry Association believes the world has more like a 300-year supply.

Q: Then what? 

A: The soil scientist fervently believed our shrinking phosphate rock reserves posed a more imminent threat to life on earth than climate change. This guy was the Greta Thunberg of phosphorus depletion.

Q:  Why haven’t we heard about this?

A:  We’ll get to that. But first, just put yourself in the earth shoes of this soil scientist.

Q:  What do you mean?

A:  Think about it. You spend years earning a doctorate in soil science. Then you devote your career to tracking the world’s phosphorous supply. You’ve got novel ideas on how to address the shortage before it is too late.

Q:  Go on.

A:  But when you go to cocktail parties, the only soil-related topics your friends will discuss are community gardens and Miracle Grow. After a few drinks, mulch. Meanwhile, you know that phosphorus is a life-and-death issue. The trouble is — and I cannot stress this enough — no one cares.

Q:  So the scientist must have been thrilled when you called, right?

A: Absolutely. The interview was the highlight of his week. Still, I had to remain objective. I had to include the fertilizer industry’s side of the story.

Q: What does all this have to do with the infrastructure bill?

A:  Let’s just say  I sometimes feel like a soil scientist at a cocktail party.

Q:  What do you mean?

A: When not writing this column, I’ve spent my career writing about infrastructure — the dangers of lead water pipes, cybersecurity risks that threaten the power grid, technologies for capturing carbon dioxide, how offshore wind farms might someday power the planet. In other words, the kinds of stuff this new infrastructure money will help fund.

Q: What are you saying?

A: I’m saying I probably lost readers the minute they read the word “infrastructure” in the first sentence.  But honestly, kids should be discussing this stuff on the playground. When adults see each other in the grocery store, they should speak of nothing else.

Q:  What do you suggest?

A:  We’ve got to pull out all the stops. This is a job for Big Bird.