Contrary to what you’re thinking, this isn’t a story about a friendly bear and his sad jackass sidekick.
Perhaps Roger Daltrey said it best:
“Gimme, gimme, gimme good water. We need water…and maybe somebody’s daughter.”
This is not just crap we’re talking about.
We kind of take it for granted. We turn on a faucet, start a sprinkler, slip into a hot tub, or drop some ice cubes into some whiskey, and that all means water. But for a large portion of our planet, water is more precious than…well, water. Diseases from unsafe water kill more people every year than all of the wars and violence around the world, and there’s no shortage of that. A large percentage of those who die from water-bourne disease and a lack of sanitation are children under five. And as much as we would like to pick on climate change or oil spills or nasty polluting corporations, the biggest issue is this:
People gotta poop.
Birds do it. Fish do it. Monkeys and squirrels and elephants all do it. Bears do it, though if nobody is in the forest you can’t smell it. And of course, people do it. And for over 2.5 billion people, there is no decent place to drop trou and read a newspaper. Four out of ten people in the world don’t have a decent place to crap. And that’s crappy.
A couple of One Percenters are fixing to get off the pot and do something about it.
One of the first to jump into the cesspool of sanitary water was Dean Kamen. The name may not be familiar, but he’s the brainiac who invented the Segway Scooter, brightening the lives of mall cops around the globe. He sold the Segway company to a charming British guy in 2010 (who then rode a Segway off of a cliff and tragically died), but Kamen kept inventing. He spearheaded a team of bright young creatives who designed a portable dialysis machine for kidney patients, a wheelchair that will allow the user to traverse stairs and rise to a standing position, perfected a 19th century engine that can run on crap, (a stirling engine), and The Slingshot.
The Slingshot is powered by a stirling engine (the crap machine), and uses clever technology, vapor compression, and fairy dust to turn anything wet into drinkable water. The basic scheme is this: Dig a hole, do your business, and then turn your waste into energy and safe water. To prove this, Kamen went to a tech conference, took a leak, and then drank it.
The other force in cleaning up our crap is Bill Gates. While Gates is often thought of as the evil force that unleashed Bing on the world, his foundation actually does some pretty cool stuff. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been generating funds and awareness for everything from eradicating malaria and improving nutrition to education initiatives and women’s rights. Their latest push is the shite heard ‘round the world, the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair.” Really, really smart people from all around the globe gathered to put some thought behind a device that hasn’t really changed in well over a hundred years.
There were teams that want to convert kaka to electricity using microwaves. One turns poo into little charcoal-like fuel bricks. The winning team was from Cal Tech and uses solar energy to break down your stuff into hydrogen gas and clean water. Like a Jetson’s crapper.
We mentioned this to Simon and he threw up in his mouth a little. But it really isn’t that far out in the septic field. Think about it. It rains, and that rain ends up in a stream or river. That river goes to an ocean, evaporates, and then falls as more rain. Somewhere in that magic cycle, we divert it and make things like beer. We drink the beer, and then we have to go. Maybe we’ve chased the beer with some chicken wings, so now we really have to go. We flush, it goes to a treatment plant where they stir it around, and then release it into a stream or river. It’s all a big, swirling cycle. It swirls clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the Southern, but it still swirls. To a large extent, we’re drinking the crap of our ancestors. We’re just more tech-savvy about it now.
Think about that the next time that you forget to flush.