Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dying for a Bathroom

Yesterday I interviewed a CA architect for a magazine article. In 1972, Coop taught a class on Environmental Awareness as his senior project, and it's been his passion throughout his career. We talked about his philosophy and the innovations he uses. It was all fascinating, but his final words may be the most interesting. I asked how his career has compared to what he imagined back when he was convincing the dean that environmental awareness did indeed impact architecture, back when he was first exploring the interrelatedness of building construction and the supply and demand of energy. It hasn't been what he thought. Still so little has changed and so few people care. "I thought more would happen," he said. "I thought more people would wake up."

Coop told me of M. King Hubbert, who, in 1956, calculated that the U.S. would pass peak oil production in the early 1970s. Hubbert later calculated that the world would pass peak production in 2004. According to the Coop, world production declined for the first time ever in 2006. Like the easy credit that got us in so much trouble, we're spending energy capital as though the supply will last forever, as though tomorrow will never come and we will never, finally, be forced to pay for the hamburger of today.

I mentioned my fascination with The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, and told him a little about the book. We talked about biogas digesters, which use feces to produce gas for household use. He raved over how such a thing could be used and then sighed. "If I tried to get a building permit for something like that, I don't know who the county would call first: the mental hospital or the sheriff."

Having never lived without access to a clean, working bathroom, I consider it a basic necessity. I had no idea that 2.6 BILLION people live without access to even a bucket for a toilet. I had no sense—not an inkling—that sanitation is an enormous political issue or that human waste is being used as fertilizer in the U.S. and there's good reason to believe people are being poisoned by it.

One of today's tasks is to write the article for which I interviewed Coop. It's going to be quite a challenge to fit all the important things he said into the space available. We've got to wake up. We've got to pay for the hamburger.

People are dying for bathrooms.


Carrie Duncan said...

I praise my indoor plumbing every day, and I've only the facilities provided while hiking to compare. Biogas. What a concept. Raises the question as to how long can we tolerate the knee-jerk response to the possibility while we are drowning in our own waste.

We would gladly pay you Tuesday...

luckyzmom said...

I want to believe that the world has come farther than this. Sad that it hasn't. In the book "naked economics", the author Charles Wheelan points out "........Poor countries, like poor people, often have very bad habits. Providing support can prolong behavior that needs to be changed. One recent study came to the unsurprising conclusion that foreign aid has a positive effect on growth when good policies are already in place and has little impact on growth when they are not....."

Perhaps, instead of continuing to beat a dead horse, a new approach should be used.

Stacy said...

Oh, I am still depressed. Human beings, the only animal that poos in its own nest. Still I love my indoor plumbing.