SAVING THE WORLD, SAVING OURSELVESThis is the first in a series of blogs based on research I did for my novel, Tinker's Plague, and information I've gleaned over many years of interest in environmental technologies. Like most of the answers that present themselves to the problems of human excess on our world, singularly no one of the ideas presented in this series would make a huge difference. Collectively I feel they have the potential to save the human race. Please note what I am trying to save because the world will go on weather or not humanity destroys our current environment. Life is likely to continue on this world despite the best efforts of some to wipe it out through their adherence to superstition, greed, short sightedness, and stupidity. Multicellular life will probably survive our demise. So at most we clever apes have the potential to set evolution back a couple hundred million years, probably not that much, only a tick on the cosmic clock.The real question is not weather or not we want to save the world? Save the whales? Save the great apes? The question my friends, is do we want to save ourselves? Keeping all this in mind I'm going to put forward suggestions, some of which are in the preview of the common citizen of Earth to enact, others of which will require the participation of larger social structures.They way I will try to be different is that I will offer solutions. Many of them will be partial lessoning the problems we face not eliminating them. I personally feel there has been too much helpless hand wringing by the green community. I also am not an extremist. I know human needs and desires have to be taken into account. So I seek different ways of doing things that still serve those needs. In short, I don’t say stop driving. I do say tune your car’s engine check your catalytic converter and generally a subcompact is better than an SUV. SECTION ONE RAIN CATCHMENTThis is an idea applicable to most inhabited areas that can be simply enacted with a bit of government will.Huge amounts of energy are used every day to purify and pump water in cities around the globe. As well, much of this water once pumped and used then ends up costing us more energy to clean before we put it back into the environment. This is essential, clean water is the lifeblood of human habitation. One simple way we could reduce the energy and environmental cost of this process in most human cities is to use nature's gift, rain. What I propose is that the building codes be changed so that all new construction, and all major renovations, where adding the necessary components would not increase the total cost by more than 10 percent, be built with a rain catchment system. This takes the rain that lands on the roof and directs it into a storage tank situated just below the roofline. This tank can then gravity feed the toilets removing the single biggest user of water in most homes from the cities water supply system.A quick sketch of how the system would work is as follows. Rain falls on the roof and is directed into the gutters, which have leaf screens on them. A pipe with a course screen cover to prevent large refuse falling down it takes this water and directs it into a storage tank. This tank is equipped with an overflow that will drain into the house's gray-water tank. (More about that later.) Here the water is stored until a toilet is flushed.When a toilet is flushed water gravity flows from the rain storage tank past a valve though a course filter and past another valve. The valves are there to facilitate cleaning the filter screen which is easily accessible vie a hatch in the pipe. Cleaning this filter would be no more complex than replacing the air filter in a central heating system. Close the valves open the hatch pull out the filter rinse it off put it back close the hatch and open the valves.
After the second valve the water reaches tank two through a float valve similar to the one you probably have in your toilet right now. This tank and valve assembly is very reminiscent of a household toilet's back tank. The only real difference is that it contains two float assemblies. One float valve is hooked up to tank one allowing the rainwater to fill tank two. The second float valve is situated so that it will never open unless tank two is less than a third full. This second float valve is connected to the city water supply in case tank one runs dry. This insures there will always be water to flush the toilets. The water line serving tank two from the city main is protected by a one-way valve so there is no way the rainwater could infiltrate the city system.From tank two water lines run to the toilets in the house supplying water for flushing.The advantages of a system like this are many.One, less water is pumped and purified saving energy.Two, it reduces the strain on existing water treatment facilities extending their life and allowing the existing facilities to supply a greater number of homes thus putting off the expense of building new facilities.Three, in advent of emergency people have a store of water that a quick boiling and trip through a coffee filter will render drinkable.For, it removes a huge amount of run off water when there is a rainstorm because the tanks must fill before any of that water passes through the overflow. I am the first to admit that the real solution to this problem is to have the storm and waist sewers separate, but as that will take time to accomplish very real benefits can be realised from this water diversion.Now for the inevitable objections.What about my dog, it drinks out of the toilet?Answer: That's disgusting at best. The water in your toilet is riddled with bacteria or riddled with chemicals, take your pick. Give your dog a water bowl and put a child guard on the toilet lid if you have to.What about the old people having to wash that filter?Answer: if they are fit enough to wash the dishes they are fit enough to do this. Honestly, most older folk I've talked to about this liked the idea of being a little less dependent on the government to supply something as essential as water.That's yucky. I want every bit of water that comes into my house to reek of chemicals so I have to filter it before I drink it.Answer: Sadly, I have to share the planet with you, so why should your obsession with a whiter than white marketing ploy mean that the people I care about should live in a poisoned toxic world? Get a life!Why should we do this? Things have always been fine. It's all bunk!
Answer: Wake up, the world is not the same as it was a hundred years ago. We have a much larger population, we have far more technology, the amount of carbon we as a species are releasing into the atmosphere is substantially higher and there are hosts of chemicals that exist today that didn't twenty years ago. The world has changed, as has our place in it. Things are not as they have always been. Did you hitch up a buggy and drive the team five miles into town to do the shopping? How about walking to work? Things have changed, we now have to accept it and work to keep our standard of living while mitigating our impact.Please note: Intelligent objections to this system, or anything I mention here, and suggestions for refining it are most welcome. I don't define anybody who disagrees with me is a fool. I simply have little use for those who object to new ways of doing things for no better reason than unwillingness to accept anything new or a complete disregard for the well being of future generations.Problems with the system.These exist with everything and are why environmental technologies are best used in a targeted way. The main problem with a system like this is it is of limited value in multi-story apartment complexes. Unless one is in an extremely rainy environment it is unlikely that the limited roof space of an apartment building would collect enough water to make much difference to the overall water consumption. This may not be true of some low-rise building, but for many structures the cost may outweigh the benefit. In this application the local rainfall and size of building would have to be factored in on a case-by-case basses to determine system viability.Residential homes with their more favourable ratio of roof space to toilets will in almost all environments prove viable for rainwater flushing.The tanks weight will require additional reinforcement of the part of the building structure that carries it. The long-term gains from the system far outweigh the short-term costs of building a little more solidly for one section of wall and floor.THE NEXT STEPWhat is above is the most basic of systems it can be expanded drastically. The simplest expansion would be to add a fine grain filter into the system and use the rainwater for the washing of clothes. A further expansion would be to add a system for sterilising the water and use it for bathing and drinking.Sterilising the water can be accomplished by running it through a UV light tank, or by chemical means. Boiling would also work though it is rather energy intensive.One place to find good information on rainwater systems ranging from the simple to the advanced is Mother Earth News Magazine issue No. 199. The article in addition to being in itself highly informative lists source material that can guide one further on their rainwater odyssey.The reason I shy away from more advanced rainwater systems for general application is complexity, cost, and the knowledge base needed to maintain it. The advanced systems would seem to lend themselves to rural areas, especially ones where human activity have poisoned the ground water making well water unavailable.
As to why use rainwater for flushing toilets. While rainwater is excellent for watering the garden this task can be accomplished more efficiently by the use of Grey Water (coming soon) and toilets are a major domestic load that non-potable water can easily fulfil.
Causes Stephen Pearl Supports
World Wildlife Fund, SPCA, Farley foundation, CNIB,