Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Fight In The Outhouse

I've said many things over the many posts of my blog. Some of them have been things that I knew right at the outset to be inflammatory. I didn't think a post on recycling human waste for agriculture would raise a stink, but I guess I was wrong. Some of the responses to my last post have been surprising.

There's one blogger whom I suspect of thinking that I've turned into some sort of techno-optimist who believes that technology can solve all our problems. To him I would say "no worries" – I haven't turned into a collapse “heretic.” Rather, I hold the premise that our current method of farming is unsustainable, and that one big reason for this is our way of disposing of human waste. Therefore we have to begin “closing the loop” by finding ways of recycling human waste so that it can be returned to the soil. My interview last week was an attempt to see how many people in the local government of the city in which I live realize this, and how deeply they realize this. I personally think that Portland could go much farther in recycling human waste, and that all cities in the U.S. will have to do things differently fairly soon. But when I interview people, I generally don't try to beat them up – it's considered to be in poor taste. (I might make an exception for certain rich people and media figures – so Rupert Murdoch or Glenn Beck might want to avoid having me interview them.)

What's been more interesting are the comments a couple of people sent me, warning me that sewage sludge and biosolids are the same thing, and that sewage sludge is a dangerous pollutant that should never be applied to agricultural land. One of these commenters writes that “biosolids” is a term coined by the sewage “industry” in order to market a toxic product which has endangered many people. Another commenter states that “according to the Federal Clean Water Act, biosolids/sewage sludge is a pollutant.” Reading through these comments, however, gives me an impression of people who are impassioned in their opposition to use of biosolids, yet who have not carefully read my post or the references I cited at the end, nor listened to the podcast to which I linked.

Now I just want to say that I try to keep an open mind about many things. But I try not to post allegations about things or people unless I have very good corroborating sources to back the allegations. To do otherwise in this case would not be fair to the people I interviewed. I am happy to post further comments on the subject of recycling human waste. But let's lay down a few conditions first.

If anyone wants to comment on my post, “Sewage Recycling - A Loop Almost Closed”, please read it first – the whole thing. Then read the supporting references and listen to the podcast. If after that you still believe that biosolids are unsafe for agriculture, please provide information which refutes each point made in the post and in the accompanying references. If you don't have time for all of that, at least read some of the EPA references I cited, along with Greg Charr's PowerPoint presentation, and provide documented information that refutes at least two of the statements contained in those references.

Lastly, if you believe that biosolids should not be used for agriculture, please present your own solution to the problem of soil depletion caused by modern industrial agriculture and modern sewage removal systems. That, after all, is the whole point of this discussion. Flushing humanure down toilets and into our oceans is depleting our soils, and this will lead sooner or later to agricultural collapse. What do you think we should do about it?

If you will answer these questions, that will let me know that you have read all of what I said in my post. And if you will especially answer the last question, that will let me know where you're coming from. If you will do this for me, I will post your comments – even if I don't agree with them. If you don't do these things, I will not post your comments.

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