Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waste Treatment

Yesterday, when I was talking with Charlie Dyer at KNEWS Radio, he asked me, specifically, about waste disposal. I told him what I thought, what I had written in Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs - the bottom line of which is that we can not continue to depend on large-scale facilities.

This article illustrates one reason why. Sure, the people who enjoy the waste treatment aren't being affected, but I might be. My children might be. I'm very sure that I don't want little sewage treatment disks from a New Hampshire sewage treatment facility washing up on my beach here in Maine.

The problem is that, as a society, we've continually bought into the idea that we should consolidate all things into one big thing. Instead of small, community/neighborhood schools, we have a consolidated county school. Instead of locally owned grocery stores or neighborhood bakeries, we have megastores. Instead of septic tanks and wells or cisterns in every home, we have the grand scale sewage treatment plants and water treatment facilities. Instead of a few lightbulbs and a refrigerator in our homes that use only a small amount of electricity, which we could generate ourselves using some very simple machinery, we have fully electrified houses that use thousands of KILOWATTS per month, and so we (think we) need these massive coal fired or nuclear energy generating power plants so that we can watch the Superbowl on our 46" plasma screen televisions.

The result has been that we don't think we need to conserve anything ... at all, and we've become complacent.

There was a time when every household was prepared for disaster, not because they thought about prepping, but because they lived simply, frugally, and in a more self-sufficient manner. They weren't wholly dependent on a very fragile system - one that is too big not to fail, and one that fails us repeatedly.

Too few of us notice the repeated failures ... or the failures seem to happen so infrequently ... or they just don't adversely affect our lives enough to make us choose to hedge against them as a rule rather than an exception.

I wonder why. I wonder why all of those people who lost power here in Maine and in Canada for WEEKS following the 1998 Ice Storm didn't make significant changes to their livestyles so that when such a thing happened again (and it will happen again ... it always happens again) it wouldn't negatively impact them.

I wonder how we can so quickly and so easily slip back into complacency. We "get through" the emergency, and life as usual recommences, and we seem to forget how difficult things were for that day or two, because *most* days it's okay. Most days life is usual.

And, then, one day, it's not. One day, the whole world turns upside-down, and we wonder how this thing could be happening to us.

While all this time, we've been given little hints, little warnings, little opportunities to prepare ... and did nothing.

Maybe each of us, as individuals, feel we can't do anything about the waste treatment plants in our communities. It's unlikely that we'll get them closed. But we can choose how much, if anything, we contribute to the problem. We can decide how many times we flush the toilet ... or better, we can decide not to flush the toilet at all and install instead a composting toilet ... or even a very simple Lovable Loo. We can decide to save water by using less when we wash dishes or clothes or our own bodies. We can even decide to reuse water for multiple tasks - like taking a bath, and then using our bath water to wash the clothes.

The point is, that while we think we don't have any control over these massive infrastructure facilities, we do, and if more of us are using less, there will be less to treat, and perhaps, less potential for things like little disks escaping during a severe rain storm and washing up on my beach ... where my children would love to play in the surf before the tourists arrive at the end of May.

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