Thursday, July 17, 2014

A moral panic and our bathrooms

Article: Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design

Two articles, same newspaper, The Guardian, from the UK. The one linked below about pot was well-written, well-researched, with well thought out points. This is one is badly-written, hysterical, and ignorant. Two newspapers in one!
This was perhaps the greatest, but now undervalued, convenience. Instead of carrying water, suddenly everyone had as much as they could use, all the time, with the turn of a tap. Not surprisingly, according to Abby Rockefeller in Civilization and Sludge, the average water use per person went quickly from three gallons of water per person to 30 and perhaps as much as 100 gallons per person.
Yes, it is called "bathing."
The toilet was an almost trivial addition; it had been around for a while (John Harington, a member of Elizabeth I’s privy council invented a flush toilet, but there is no evidence that she ever tried it) but was pretty useless without a water supply.
Yes, it was. The "water supply" was called "hot and cold running servants."
But it became incredibly convenient to just to wash the poop away.
This is called having flush toilets in the home.

I have heard of being "anti-technology," but anti-19th century technology? This is Luddism taken to extremes. It is like going to China or India and throwing one's wooden shoes (sabots) into weaving machines into order to "sabotage" them because one objects to the poor improving their lot by exporting cloth.
Except now there was more faecal effluence than anyone knew what to do with, overflowing the cesspits and flowing into the gutters and sewers originally designed for rainwater that all led to the Thames. The result was even more cholera and disease.
Maybe in the VERY short run.

In the long run, it ended them. Underground sewage transport systems already existed, but they emptied directly into the Thames River. Beginning in 1858, an extensive new system was built incorporating all the previous systems and diverting the sewage far downstream of London. You could have Googled it.
The environmentalists of the day tried to stop this (putting flush toilets in homes); they promoted earth toilets that would keep human waste separate, that would treat it as a resource.
We have gotten to the heart of the article: modern (post-Elizabethan) technology is eeeeevil. Pre-Elizabethan practices are good. Environmentalists are good. People wanting flush toilets are evil.

Who was going to gather the waste? Human waste gathering was practiced in the Roman Empire, in India, and, up to at least recently, in China. In all three cultures, this was done done by the lowest of the low: slaves, untouchables, etc. Who was going to pay for it? Where were these "earth toilets" be put? Not in London. Land was too expensive even then. It would have to carted out of London into the country-side.
Rockefeller writes: “The engineers were divided again between those who believed in the value of human excreta to agriculture and those who did not. The believers argued in favour of 'sewage farming', the practice of irrigating neighbouring farms with municipal sewage. The second group, arguing that 'running water purifies itself' (the more current slogan among sanitary engineers: 'the solution to pollution is dilution'), argued for piping sewage into lakes, rivers, and oceans."
"Current slogan?" 1850's? Not even in the 1950's. Most municipalities were building treatment plants in the early 1900's. Yes, somethings still get diluted. But not raw sewage, not as an acceptable practice anyway.

Actually, the use of sewage for farming was pioneered in England, in 1844, and continued on for the rest of the century. The author, again, should have tried Googling it.

As for "engineers," the engineer that designed the 1858 London project designed it so the waste could be used in farming. It was the politicians who diverted it into the Thames Esturary. Again, from the link above.
Nobody seriously paused to think about the different functions and their needs; they just took the position that if water comes in and water goes out, it is all pretty much the same and should be in the same room. Nobody thought about how the water from a shower or bathtub (greywater) is different from the water from a toilet (blackwater); it all just went down the same drain which connected to the same sewer pipe that gathered the rainwater from the streets, and carried it away to be dumped in the river or lake.
Do you have a proposal for dealing with greywater? Two separate disposal systems? At twice the expense? Dump greywater into the streams or the street? Forbid bathing? No apartment has a place to use the water. Most houses in cities don't have enough land attached to them, even for "cesspits" just for the greywater. Why not simply send it all down the same pipe and clean it up at the far end?

Oh wait, we already do that, and we have made it work.
It is hard to find something that we actually got right in the modern bathroom. The toilet is too high (our bodies were designed to squat), the sink is too low and almost useless; the shower is a deathtrap (an American dies every day from bath or shower accidents).
Random statistic, pulled out of context, for sole people of instilling fear. There are a million times 365 Americans. Therefore, every death due to slipping in the tub is, literally, a one-in-a-million chance.
We fill this tiny, inadequately ventilated room with toxic chemicals ranging from nail polish to tile cleaners. We flush the toilet and send bacteria into the air, with our toothbrush in a cup a few feet away.
More fear-mongering. A billion people use bathrooms like this. We have been using the bathrooms like this for a century. If this was, in any way, even an INsignificant problem, it would be noticed by now.
We mix up all our bodily functions in a machine designed by engineers on the basis of the plumbing system, not human needs. The result is a toxic output of contaminated water, questionable air quality and incredible waste. We just can’t afford to do it this way any more.
The crisis has been declared! We must act now.

We are "affording" it now. The contaminated water has been treated for a century. Incredible waste? The "incredible waste, aka "solids," are disposed by burning in many places, producing electricity (at least in my locale). And what is the problem with air quality? A wifty smell if one gets within a 100 yards? This is why sewage treatment plants are located out in the country.

Is this system perfect? No. Is it better than cesspits and letting it run down the streams? Yes.
According to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post): “Over 10bn litres of sewage are produced every day in England and Wales. It takes approximately 6.34 GW hours of energy to treat this volume of sewage, almost 1% of the average daily electricity consumption of England and Wales.”
Wow. One percent. To turn foul, poisonous, toxic, infectious disease-laden waste turned into safe, but nutrient-rich waste water.

Additional scares: our current system uses too much water (We're about to run out!). We have reached "peak phosphorus!"

So, the remainder of the article proposes using a variety of high-tech, in-home type composting toilets. But without making them mandatory, they won't deal with crises hyped in this article.

In other words, another leftist (this is the Guardian) environmentalist advocating massive government intervention. It used be that the Left would attack the Right for wanting to invade the bedroom. Here we have the sight of the Left wanting to invade the bathroom, instead.

Beyond parody: the article's author: Lloyd Alter is managing editor of TreeHugger.

UPDATE: After thinking about this article,  my inner editor wants to rip it apart and rebuild it. A lot of sensible things are said, but the article is so badly written that they are buried in "green" goo.

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