Digest 12/21: Potable Reuse; Seed-Keeping as Resistance; and More

As I write this, it is the Winter Solstice. The shortest day and longest night of the year. Rich, fertile time.

Also rich and fertile is my inbox (which I define broadly to include my newsfeed and the various periodicals I subscribe to). This week I’m trying something new: just posting links to some of the best articles I’ve read over the past week or so, rather than trying to do a different post on each very worthwhile topic I’ve come across. Just an experiment! If I like it, and/or if you my dear reader find it useful, I may do it again.

Quote: “The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.” — Alfred Adler, via Inspiring Quotes email newsletter. Commentary from IQ: “Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler was among the early pioneers of family and group counseling. One reason for his 1911 break with compatriot Sigmund Freud was that Adler believed external factors, such as adult relationships and employment, should be accounted for when treating patients (whereas Freud thought behavior was largely fueled by biology and childhood events). While listening to people reflect on their place in society, Adler heard lots of trepidation. This motivated him to help individuals grow comfortable with risks, because adventures and unforeseen joys await those who say yes.”

• The other week I was among a dozen or so citizens who got to visit my city’s wastewater treatment plant for a tour of their demonstration testing system for direct potable reuse. This was a two-year pilot program to purify wastewater effluent through an advanced purification system. It was only a test, for preparedness purposes, but there has been a lot of public misunderstanding, amplified by people referring to it as “toilet to tap” and “poopy water.” Never mind that it was only a test; that the water was never actually sent out to the public and there are no plans to do so. Also, this technology is actually in widespread use, and has been for years, in many parts of the world including drought-prone areas of Australia and the Western US. My take on this is that it falls under the heading of civil preparedness, and that if we don’t want to have to rely on direct potable reuse, we need to stop wasting water. I also agree with what my friend the environmental-sciences professor, soil & water conservation official, and all-around superwoman said: Anyone who is living with a well and a septic is already drinking poopy water! (though we count on the few vertical feet of soil to be enough distance for adequate filtration, so ideally it is NOT poopy). And everyone who’s living on planet earth is already drinking recycled wastewater! But the fear and resentment about the direct potable reuse demonstration test persists. To provide more information on the subject, I searched and found this great article by Jacques Leslie at yale.edu: “Where Water is Scarce, Communities Turn to Reusing Wastewater.” Finally, if we don’t want to drink poopy water, we could … stop pooping into water! In other words, instead of crapping into the world’s very limited supply of potable water in the first place, we could use compost toilets, the waterless receptacles that are the starting point in a humanure composting system. It’s a low-cost, low-risk approach that’s in common use in many places. (See Joseph Jenkins’ The Humanure Handbook, the definitive manual on this topic.)

• “Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Right Now
(Tara Parker-Pope, Christina Caron, and Mónica Cordero Sancho; nytimes.com). “As Americans head into a third year of pandemic living, therapists around the country are finding themselves on the front lines of a mental health crisis. Social workers, psychologists and counselors from every state say they can’t keep up with an unrelenting demand for their services, and many must turn away patients — including children — who are desperate for support.” (I see this mental-health crisis as one symptom of our societal brittleness and anti-resilience; our hyper-individualist society doesn’t really teach people good skills for navigating emotions or for coexisting in close quarters with other people. The pandemic was maybe just a very large straw that broke the camel’s back. Good article; I read it as a call to cultivate nurturing communities.)

• “SEED KEEPING ‘AN IMPORTANT PIECE OF RESISTANCE’: Philadelphia woman starting a Black heirloom seed farm” (Stephanie Farr; Philadelphia Inquirer TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE, published in Daytona Beach News-Journal). “‘A lot of my peers, their immediate thought was that Black people farming is just like slavery …’ But Mitchell’s mother also taught her that their people’s history didn’t begin with oppression and enslavement, that it had far deeper roots than that. I saw farming as an ancestral African practice that was exploited and this was a way to connect with those farmers even before they were enslaved and oppressed for it … And my instinct was correct – many Africans were enslaved purposely because of their agricultural knowledge and skill.’ For Mitchell, working with the land became a way to repair that trauma and to reframe farming as a ‘strategy of liberation.’ As she became more deeply involved in agriculture, Mitchell felt particularly called to seed keeping, the practice of not only saving seeds, but also preserving and passing down the stories of the cultures from which those seeds came. It’s an important piece of resistance.”

• “Flowing Towards Abundance” (Toby Hemenway, resilience.org; originally published on tobyhemenway.com). In permaculture design class when we learned about “stocks and flows,” I immediately realized why no amount of stockpiled money makes people feel secure. It’s the flow, the knowingness of nature’s flow, that brings real security. Article by the acclaimed author of Gaia’s Garden gives an excellent overview of stocks and flows.

• “Winter Storm Uri … What Went Wrong?” (Amy Stansbury; austincommon.org). Reflections on last winter’s deadly cold spell in central Texas offer lessons in energy preparedness, community resilience. Nice, highly readable graphic summary, with link to detailed report.