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Urine, You’re on!

So cynical, perfectionist, always looking for what’s wrong with the way I and most other middle class folks live. The things we use, technologies on which we depend, kilometers we drive (or miles, for that minority backwards folk called the USA and UK–oops, I did it again), the expectations of the good life, ignoring for the most part people who can’t reach it no matter how hard they work.Except we have compassion if they live very, very far away. Such as in Africa. We give money to them thanks to Bono. Not to group all of “Africa” as if it’s homogeneous, full of Africans and mysterious hot diseases. There is also South Africa, which has white people (and took a long time to recover, too!). And Egypt–no way, is that a part of Africa?

Always I harp on problems. Isn’t it time to offer solutions? Yes, I like solutions, don’t you? Except you’re not going to like this, and neither do I. From what I can tell, we’ll be able to make huge strides toward solving the energy and water crises (to start somewhere) by all becoming anal. For example, every morning I get up, rinse my mouth guard, and take a pee. How can I make that a better process, I ask myself? Maybe I rinse the guard with rainwater and dump that in my watering can, and maybe instead of using a flush toilet I pee into sawdust (from the local wood shop, delivered for a tip by children pulling wagons), flip the handle and it drops down into the compost pile below, like one of those hatches in an airplane toilet except without the sucking sound. It’s nitrogen-rich, you see. But I mustn’t be taking antibiotics or eating anything with heavy metals in it. Someone once told me that was the reason we can’t use human waste as fertilizer, so we’d better make sure.

That’s the first five minutes. You see, there are so many little events in life where we can make a difference. But there are certain barriers to each one. The composting and reuse of urine as fertilizer, for example, has a psychological barrier in that most people think it’s gross, I mean grosser than it is necessary (the other gross things we do, we see as necessary, so they don’t bother us as long as they don’t show up in movies or books). But I’m sure we’ll change our minds eventually, when natural gas-derived and mined fertilizers become too expensive, so why not just switch over now based on practical logic, matter over mind? Do we really need to jet activists and government officials around to conferences, debate environmental bills, create educational campaigns, wait for the big plumbing corporations to retool so they can get in on the updates (“Wal-Mart sells pee pots for less”), before we do the right thing?

I for one don’t care if it’s gross–not any more, since I’ve been living with this idea and have got used to it. It’s way less gross than all the diapers I’ve had to deal with and than picking up dog poop, anyway. I’d be proud to work on setting up a waterless pee pot in my bathroom (though I’d want it outside in the summer). But I’m intimidated by my children and husband’s probable reaction, to tell you the truth. Shall I do it anyway, put my sawdust where my fertilizer is, and just update you on how it goes down at my house? I feel bold. I’ll do it. Back in a week. If you want to join me, here’s my plan (any refinements you can offer are welcome):

Toilet!

  1. Nail together or adapt a simple bench with hole, strongly constructed and nicely refinished with marine shellac (I have my tools out already from another project). Covered in front, open in back. Room for extra stores of sawdust. Stir stick?
  2. Install toilet seat on top. I’ll use the one from the not-yet hauled toilet in the back storage area. WIth a prop for seat-lifters.
  3. Put sawdust in bucket or tray below.

I’ll have to experiment with the right amount of sawdust and the dimensions of the apparatus to minimize splashing, of course, and for now I’ll do all the dumping and refilling.

Wish me luck!

Week 1 update

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in How to

 

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Welcome to Eaarth

I’m reading Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, getting an update on how our planet’s systems are already on Tilt, already irreversibly different, while we muddle around, send our leaders jet-setting to climate change initiative conferences, reading in the papers how they fret and fuss about who can and will pay the price of even responding to present crises, let alone preparing for the next. Taking notes, hoping to have an influence in my circles. I am floored, thinking about it all, asking what do we do, and how do we get everyone on board faster, faster? How do we act justly toward the poor countries who are most affected by our voracious consumption, our addiction to growth, our willful blindness to the laws of physics and ecology? Quickly, before mammalian survival instincts take over and the higher human values of justice and equity get trampled? Quickly, while “the preservation of the American way of life” is still positively correlated to preserving lives in other places? How do we divert our tremendous drive and creativity away from making junk and trouble to solving our problems and creating a new paradigm for our culture?

Between chapters I am aware of the irony, the hypocrisy as I drive one son forty miles to a swim meet and back (and out to a coffee shop for my treat between events). And why is it the trucks and SUVs seem to be the most likely to be going ten mph over the speed limit, anyway? Because SUVs and new pickups have such a smooth, quiet ride, drivers can’t hear the pistons pumping, the engine laboring, so it feels like nothing at all to press down the pedal, can still hear Pink Floyd crystal clear on the Bluetooth audio. Me in my ’93 Accord, I can feel and hear that gas burning (and some of the oil, too), and it makes me want to cut down. Lord, save us from too much luxury, insulation from realities we need to know about.

How about a series of training seminars for auto salespeople, helping them realize it’s not responsible to sell big machinery to people for commuting down the freeway, getting them to seed the whole auto-buying clientele with the idea that we all want to power down. FERC warning labels on low fuel economy vehicles too, like cigarettes, if people insist on buying them. Only takes ten per cent to believe it, and it’ll spread like wildfire (whether it’s true or not–see the article). Sell gas-guzzlers by permit only, with special controls on weekly mileage and speed. Discounts for shared ownership in the New Sharing Economy. Neighborhoods, through the new online neighborhood social networks, for example, organize the ownership or lease and booking of the heavy duty truck for hauling recyclable metals to the recyclers, prunings to the community composting site, a load of lumber to the building site.

The next day I drive my son a few miles down the freeway to early practice, and go back and pick him up an hour and a half later. I go for a run before breakfast lest I become too flabby and weak from living my sedentary lifestyle. Then I drive my son to the bus stop because our bikes were stolen, and so he can avoid straining his back carrying heavy textbooks and swim gear.  My husband drives our daughter to her school because she stayed up late doing homework after procrastinating all afternoon with her smart phone. Then he drives alone sixty-five miles to work for the week. At noon I drive my younger son to Phys. Ed. class so he can stay in shape too, and I take another walk to drop off a check to pay for my weekly exercise class. At five I drive a few miles to the high school athletics meeting, where we hear about the positive life lessons the kids learn in high school sports, and find out about all the swim meets we’ll all be driving to and watching in nice heated indoor pools.

Time to get more serious about using my bike, when I’m not hauling bulk groceries or working through my checklist that takes me all over town, or picking up kids, dropping off kids. Time to stop ferrying the kids around to everything, time to say “Sorry, here’s the bus schedule.” I’ve been trying to resist that pressure, explaining why I’m trying to limit driving, why when my teens get their licenses, they won’t automatically get a spare car and not have to take the bus.

As I contemplate the eventual spiraling down of the oil-powered economy, the abandonment of extraneous or dilapidated and unfixable facilities and infrastructure and wasteful habits in order to focus on basic needs, I’m thinking, what are essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes that have value in all times and places? Getting adequate food – fishing, hunting and gathering, food storage, preservation and preparation. Getting clothed and sheltered – making coverings and dwellings from local materials. Having fun together/building community-music, poetry, story telling, dance, service. Staying healthy – first aid, medicine, nutrition, safety, defense, peace making. Parenting – raising children to be content and capable. Teaching. Writing. Woodworking, ceramics, metal work, fiber craft. Natural history. Spiritual guidance. Teamwork, leadership, respect. And we will need plenty of knowledge and wisdom and we might not be able to Google it, so I won’t get rid of my books just yet.

“Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.”

I listen to the news, and now I have enhanced filtration that makes a mockery of the economic policies explained by politicians there. The push for more oil pipeline and rail transport, more new overseas markets, moving to an even more global economy. In TV it’s ads for new cars, Black Friday specials on housewares, sports gear, toys and games, the newest gadgets. The jingle bells all ring hollow. Time to retrain everyone, time to reform the whole system–what we produce, what we promote, what we sell, to whom we sell it. In a positive way, of course, not through pressure and panic. Sharing the vision–we have to work together to figure out our common bottom line and make sure it all adds up to something positive.

This year at the family Thanksgiving I took charge of the compostables and recyclables for the first time. I live in a green city and have extra space in my bins, and my in-laws live in a non-recycling, non-composting kind of county, so it was something I could do to help. First year I stepped up to do that–leftover food, paper cups, aluminum foil, and plastic water bottles (Grandma needed to simplify on dishwashing this year–good for her) were all going into the same bin and I swooped in to quietly separate them. I had never done this before, been reluctant after in the past being what I would call undiplomatic about my green habits when I first came into my husband’s family. I was seen as extreme then. But it went very smoothly with a minimum of digging in the garbage, and the cat got her treats set aside too. Garbage reduced by two thirds.

I’m concerned, yes–very, but I’m looking forward to making myself useful on this tough, new planet.

 

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Idea: Sustainability scoring on retail goods

Can some mathematical/economic geniuses out there come up with an algorithm to calculate the sustainability score of every product sold on the market? One could start with categories of products generally recognized to have least intrinsic value. It could include measures of environmental sustainability such as:

  • energy use in manufacturing, distribution, and promotion
  • proportion of renewable to non-renewable resources used in manufacture
  • proportion of substance to packaging
  • recyclability/compostability of packaging and product
  • other environmental impacts of manufacture, distribution, and discard
  • longevity as a useful item, multiple uses

As some of these figures would change depending on the retail location, the score could be automatically adjusted in each retailer’s system in pricing. The labels on shelves would include a score, out of twenty, for example, with a margin of error. Scores could be adjusted as manufacturers and distributors changes products and practices in response to social pressure. Individuals with no vested interest the success or failure of individual products could also influence scores they believed to be inaccurate.

Another measure of social sustainability could include considerations such as:

  • social costs and benefits of manufacture at source
  • distribution of costs and profits
  • social, psychological, and health costs and benefits of owning and using item

In this day of easy access to information and fast  communication, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take a stab at this. Think of the competition for good scores between companies selling competing products, and of retailers to carry products with better scores. Think of any product in any store, anything you have bought or thought about buying–how would they compare? Low quality products could just die on the proverbial vine…

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2012 in Economics, Ethics, Ideas

 

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