Sunday, January 20, 2008

The THWASPCO/Potty House in Winter-

That's "Three-Hole Wind And Solar Powered Composting Outhouse", in case you missed that earlier.

Some time ago, I made a comment over at NoImpactMan, to the effect that "everybody going back to mud huts" IS indeed an "option".  

It took me quite a while to realize some of the participants there did not understand what I meant by that.  It's not that universal mud huts is an option we would CHOOSE, as a society.

It's that we could all to easily find ourselves living that way- if we don't fix some of the problems facing us.  The potential for societal collapse is that big.  We won't choose it- the universe will enforce it, if we continue to ignore physics.

Seemed obvious to me- pretty dumb (of ME), huh?

Wherever humans live, there are seasons; either cold/warm, or wet/dry, or light/dark, or calm/windy - etc.

One of the factors contributing to planetary overload is the increasing assumption that whatever dwelling/city you build; it should be built to serve your needs perfectly - 100% of the time.

I think we probably cannot afford it.  And I can tell you from long personal experience- it won't kill you to be hot, cold, wet, or dry, some of the time.

We look, for example, at the country farmer housing/village in China/India/Brazil- and the more sheltered among us are appalled.  My gosh, the houses are made out of... mud.  (Literally; or adobe, or rammed earth, or thatch...)  The streets aren't paved.  They use outhouses.  Each house has one lightbulb.  It's horrifying that humans should be forced to live this way!  We think.

They frequently don't think so, until they get a satellite tv link, and start watching re-runs of Dallas.

Then, since this is what the whole world tells them, they start to "need" paving, highways, indoor plumbing, refrigerators, and prefab plywood houses.  It's a disaster.  They have no recognizable "cash-flow" to pay for all this, of course; so they tend to abandon their 8,000 year old sustainable agriculture/polyculture pathways, and plant a "cash-crop" - like cotton, or opium.  So they can buy Spam, bagged rice from California...  etc.  One crop failure of the new cash crop and - they starve.

Sitting cosy in our Chicago condo, it's hard to realize- about HALF of all the humans on the planet still live this way.   World Bank data.

As far as I can decipher the bureaucratese, a mere 25% or so of the world lives on $1US (one dollar) per day; or less.  What's a little harder to discover is that another 25% or so lives on - TWICE that.  That is - $2US/day (two dollars) - or less.  Rich folks.

Life in the mud-hut world is far from bucolic; it entails occasional hunger, frequent lack of basic medicine, total lack of advanced medicine; short lives and too much hard work.  

Here's what I'm trying to get around to- the capital investment in our "modern" city/suburb infrastructure is utterly incomprehensible to anyone living on $2/day.  And a disproportionately large chunk of it goes to make our modern world "100%" functional, 100% of the year.

Highways are not a really good example to work with here; since a lot of the "frills" associated with fancy highways are also for safety - hard to argue against.  But the numbers are more easily accessible than most; and for most of us- the costs are surprising.  From GAO - (slide 16)

WSDOT found:
– Reported costs ranged from about $1 million to $8.5 million
per lane mile.
– The median reported cost was about $1.6 million per lane
– Five states reported costs significantly higher than other
states—ranging between about $3.1 million and $8.5 million
per lane mile. (See fig. 1.)

So- when your town builds one mile of 2 lane road- it tends to cost around $3.2 Million.  More if it's mountainous, or swampy.

You have any idea what a mud village could do with $3.2M?  Build a hospital?  (mud would be fine)  Educate 3 doctors?

Are all the roads in your neighborhood NECESSARY?  How many are there so people can get to work 10 minutes faster?  Or because there's one house way at the end of the road?

Staggering amounts of money are spent by us on infrastructure that is useful - for a small percentage of time; or a few people.  This is mostly unnoticed- and I think is not being discussed as a possible source of "saved" energy and resources.  Of COURSE it's my right to have an all weather road to my door!

Quite a few thinkers believe that one of the "answers" in the coming centuries to humanity's problems has to include a more even access to resources - water, fuel, money.  Besides the airy-fairy nonsense about fairness or justice - it's just practical.  Those damn poor people eventually get cranky, when they have nothing left to lose- and start banding together, and burning cities, and stuff.  (take a look at history, please)

3 billion people now live on less than $2/day.  How much more do they have to lose?

Analysis will show, I am quite confident, that the cost of providing services  "100%/24/7/52" -is usually about TWICE the cost of providing services "92%/23/7/46".  That's huge; and those resources are desperately needed elsewhere.

Would you be willing to put on a sweater for a couple weeks - so a village in India could have a doctor?  That's what it could come down to, in the centuries ahead.

SO - where the heck is the THWASPCO in all this blather?

Well.  It's a sanitation service that makes many people recoil in horror.  "I COULDN'T live like that!"  they'll say- and the most astonishing part to me; they believe it.  Never mind that a) all your great grandparents lived this way, and b) more than half the people on the planet still do.  Yes, you COULD.  You just don't know it.

Why do we have one?  

A) we couldn't afford a "normal" sanitation system- which would have cost about 6-8 times more. (Freeing resources for much more critical needs.) 

 B) once we got into the needs and design aspects- this system actually does an environmentally superior job of handling waste- by a long shot.

Oh, yah, and C)  luckily for us all, your tushy just doesn't have many "cold" sensors in it.  Sitting on a below-zero seat is like jumping into 50°F water- seems chilly for a couple moments, then you're used to it.  NO BIGGIE.

Basically, the THWASPCO provides perfectly comfortable services about 8 months of the year.  It's got substantial solar heat gain when the leaves are off- making spring and autumn pretty cozy.  It MAY get too hot for a few days in mid summer.  In midwinter- yeah, you notice it's not cozy.

So?  Cope.

And how, precisely does one use an outhouse in -20° weather?

Very, very quickly.

More tomorrow.  :-)


Billy said...

I spent some time today reading through your site, from back to front, after which I had the insatiable desire to let you know of the faith and hope inspired by your posts, two things I am not inclined to rely on let alone discover often in my lifestyle.

Fresh to the world of independence and currently learning the ropes of personal and public responsibility I can't help but feel as if your knowledge / experience is some small stepping stone into a conscientious life (looking at my own decisions thus far I can barely call my choices conscience).

Simply -- Thank you for deciding to share your life with us.

I pulled out an old nylon rope I had in my closet and am currently watching as the Florida sunshine and wind are drying my clothes for the first time. Hopefully this helps to push the ice burg just a little further. The next few days will be spent researching compost heaps, small gardens, and more methods/safety concerns of how to live without a refrigerator. Hopefully enough small steps will lead me into contributing at least a small effect for a better world.

I will be sure to spread your blog to all my friends in hopes for the same inspiration.

My good tidings come to you, Spice, the Spouse, and all other close to you. You deserve the best. Here's to hope that your back gets better and that you find a solution to your weep hole as well. Good luck with the crops! I will be looking forward to your next entry.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Ok, Greenjob, since I'm into details, I want some details.

When it's winter, does Spice sit on the toilet when doing #1, or does she squat like she's at a public restroom in Tijuana?

Do you guys actually make the trip through the -20° weather from the house? Or do you have those hospital hand urinals or some sort of porta-a-bucket in the house that you dump out in the THAWCOPS when it's more convenient? Again for #1.

Can you be brutally honest about your potty habits here? Not just because of my own prurient interest, but I think people need to know what other people do in this situation or what's "normal". Even if it's coming from the Nut of the Year.

A lot of times people can't wrap their brains around the possibilities without them being pointed out by an expert COWPATHS user.

Anonymous said...

Seconding Crunchy's request for more info, if you can.

I'd love to know how you manage winter gear when visiting the potty house. A warm overcoat plus scarf and gloves would seem called for in -20F weather. Do you take them off before sitting down? Go without if it is just a trip to the potty house? Take off the gloves and somehow wrestle the coat and scarf up out of the way?


R.M. Koske

Greenpa said...

Billy M- wow. thanks. Nice to hear.

Crunch and Anon- yep, working on it. That's what I meant by "more tomorrow" -

personally, I thought the "what do you do with your pants" stuff would be more interesting if folks knew more of the "big picture" why stuff, first. And it had been a long time since the last big-pic-philosophy post-

Anonymous said...

I really agree about the mud huts. I believe that, if we do it in a planned way, we can retain basically everything that's good about a Western lifestyle on a fraction of the resource-base. If, on the other hand, we wait for the resources to run out and/or the masses to rise up, we're stuffed. There won't be leisure then for planning a good life.

I feel that one of the problems with much global warming etc. debate is that people won't face up to the reality of "there isn't enough stuff to go around". So people say 'fossil fuel bad, biofuel good' and cheerily use as much fuel as before. And lo, there are food shortages. You can't just swap out one element of your lifestyle and expect to carry on as usual. You can't go car-free in isolation, for example. You might have to simultaneously change your job, move house, get to know your colleagues better, skip going out on the town after work or something.

But, it's *so* worth it. We're still on the grid, but our energy usage is down to about twice what the planet can apparently sustain. Not sure how to figure out many of our other resources, but we are progressively more frugal as we learn how.

As someone who simply wouldn't have survived childhood in the third world, I'm acutely aware of the need to preserve the bits of our lifestyle that really make a difference, and I'm well aware that the price of that is getting rid of those that really don't.

Thanks for your encouragement.


Hanley Tucks said...

I think we can do better than mud huts. A closer look at the webpage you got the poverty figures from shows that the proportion of the world's population living impoverished has declined over the years. But that's basically been due to China and India getting richer - Africa is getting worse.

What's the difference? Wars, civil and international. You could have the richest land and the best-yielding crops and fine marble for your homes and brilliant plumbing, but if a gang of blokes come into your village, shoot at the men, rape the women, take the boys for their army, and machete anyone else, well... you won't stay in that place. And wherever you go next, you'll be reluctant to invest much time and effort into it.

Consider the country of Somalia; the northern part (former British) had no part in the civil war of the 1980s on. It just quietly declared independence, and since 1991 has had peace - not one single country in the world recognises "the Republic of Somaliland", but they have peace, an elected parliament, rights for women and so on. They've got a small economy going exporting sheep to Yemen, the UN has stepped in with printing schoolbooks for them, etc. While they're not exactly rich, they're a lot better off than their southern cousins. Why? No wars.

As well as wars, dictatorship with warlike conditions (people driven back and forth across the country) also ruin things - just look at Zimbabwe.

Left to themselves, people can manage better than mud huts with one lightbulb. It takes a deliberate effort to keep people that poor, civil or international conflict combined with one or more of dictatorship, international sanctions, bad climate and so on.

We can do better than mud huts. Those in mud huts certainly would do better if we'd let them. It takes a deliberate effort to keep people that poor.

Greenpa said...

Green with a gun- I agree with pretty much everything you've got there. One thing about the statistics - they recently did a drastic revision on China's - making it a lot worse than reported, alas. China's GNP

And of course, while the financial reporters are focusing on the wealth and weathy; the reality is there are a lot more poor there than previously reported.

We CAN do better. But we're going to have to ACT.

Christy said...

I could live in a mud hut, but I wouldn't like it. We are all so spoiled it will be hard to give up what we've gotten used to. I do believe at some point we won't have a choice adn I'm trying to adjust now while I can.

Anonymous said...

What your linked article simply doesn't talk about is income distribution. From the point of view of ending poverty, there's every difference between one guy with $1 million in the bank and one million people with $1 million total in the bank.

So while China's economy may be bigger or smaller in GNP terms, that tells us nothing about the number of people it has living in poverty - on less than $1 or $2 a day. $6 trillion spread evenly among 1.3 billion people is $4,600, which is not great but not "poverty" in UN-speak. But $6 trillion with $4 trillion for 100 million people and $2 trillion for the other 1,200 million, well that's a different thing. Which is it? The article doesn't say.

Total wealth is not important, except to the very wealthy; what matters is distribution of the wealth. I mean, you could live in a flat where one of you has an income of $100,000 and the other $5,000, or a flat where one has $20,000 and the other $35,000. The latter has overall less cash in it, but most of us would say that it's fairer, and we'd expect less arguments and trouble in that flat. Wealth disparity causes conflicts.

The article also fails to mention that while China has a $6 trillion economy, they also have $1.5 trillion in foreign cash reserves (about 2/3 US money and bonds). So in essence they've deliberately slowed their development so they can build up their savings. That means that if the US economy falls on its arse or turns protectionist or something, they have a significant reserve they can use to develop their economy anyway.

Certainly we have to act to improve poverty; but many of the actions needed are in fact... to do nothing. For example, if a few major countries recognised the Republic of Somaliland and traded with it, but otherwise did nothing, that'd help them far more than just sending them sacks of grain. Or we could stop having tariffs and subsidies for our agricultural products to give Third World farmers a chance. Or if we stopped selling arms to dictators and interfering in civil conflicts, etc. Basically if we just left them be things would improve quite a bit.

But the main point I wanted to make was that we can do better than mud huts. There's an old joke which is both racist and anti-racist: "how do you stop a (black person) from drowning? Take your foot off his neck."

Certainly many of the problems of impoverished countries are entirely their own fault, but we've done our bit to help them make it worse. Given the improvement in the position of impoverished people in countries which are peaceful, mud huts are not inevitable.

If they're living in mud huts that does not reflect something about the physical limits of the world, as your blog post was implying, but rather something about our economies and diplomacy. It is therefore not inevitable that people will live in mud huts.