Examine a sanitation system that takes fresh drinking water, drops humanure and urine into it and them pumps it over large distances in fragile pipes, all the while mixing it with water collected from drains and industrial processes. The input is a toxic stew that due to its complexity defies easy processing, and so much of it is not processed. How can such a system deal with a sudden downpour? It cant. The output of this system, the sludge at the bottom of the pools, is dried and sold as compost, despite the fact that it is laden with hydrocarbons, heavy metals and roundworm eggs.

Compare this with one in which humanure and urine are processed on site, in isolation from other forms of waste without the need for pumping and piping. You don’t pay for the fresh water pumping. You don’t pay for the polluted water pumping. You don’t pay for the dams, or the outflow pipes. You don’t pay in non-monetary terms in healthcare bills due to a polluted environment. You don’t pay for fish caught more expensively well beyond the toxic reach of the outflow pipe. You don’t pay for a swimming pool. The pond in the stream suffices. You don’t pay. You don’t pay. You don’t pay.

Examine a food production system that mines soil, turning rivers brown, while simultaneously poisoning it with agrochemicals. The food produced in this vile system is then mixed with the cheapest possible ingredients, transported over huge distances for extended lengths of time and then sold packaged in plastic, (often as fresh) at the highest possible price for the enrichment of a few.

Compare this with a rooftop farm which uses no agrochemicals, creates soil, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The food produced in this system is unadulterated, transported over several floors in a zero hydrocarbon, non refrigerated basket with no plastic anywhere in sight. You don’t pay for the transport. You don’t pay for the refrigeration. You don’t pay for the plastic. It IS fresh and provides for the enrichment, both monetarily and in quality of life of those who are fortunate enough to be able to eat it.

Examine a water system that pushes water in straight lines promoting the growth of bacteria and the movement of sediment, in pipes that you paid for using pumps that you paid for and electricity that you paid for. The water comes from a dam that you paid for, holding water on land that you paid to flood all the while destroying the watershed and separating fish from the spawning grounds necessary for their survival on the river.

Compare this with natural water flows with its bacteria destroying, sediment removing vortices which uses nothing but rainfall and gravity, both of which are natural services provided for free. The pipe becomes a river, sparkling and disinfected in sunlight. Use a filter and take the water directly from your roof or from a body of water. You pay for the filter and a short pipe. You don’t pay. You don’t pay. You don’t pay.



  1. kristin said,

    October 11, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Hey I just stumbled upon this blog by typing ‘environmentalism in korea’ because i’m interested in doing some kind of fulbright there on the lack of environmentalism and the increase in consumerism and how it freaks me the fuck ouuut to think about globalization and its effects on earth now and in 50 years….and basically, this blog is an amazing resource. Thank you so much for putting time and effort into explaining all of these complex/simple systems. I just took a permaculture course here in the U.S. and my eyes were opened and my brain turned on and tuned into the destructive systems by which most everyone here lives. Anyway, i have a lot of family in korea (i’m half korean) and i hope to pursue some kind of project there in the near future. Keep posting, because you have a new reader here willing to soak up all this information like a sponge.

    • October 11, 2011 at 4:31 am

      Hi Kristin

      Thank you for the praise. In truth I am just as worried as you are by the way the world is going and, like you, I mean to do something about it. My goal is to establish an international organization with one task; making cities work better and making cities – well just better. I sit here writing this a day after giving a presentation at Seoul National University on integrating rooftop gardens into buildings to make better buildings and better gardens. It is my belief, and I am working towards putting my money where my mouth is, that the border between garden and building is potentially a planet saver. I don’t know if you know the work of Geoff Lawton, a contemporary of Bill Mollinson, but he said all the world’s problems can be solved in the garden. I took that to heart and ran with it. That one thought has taken me to a world of wonder. One I mean to share with as many people as I can find. If there is one thing in the world that can increase faster than our pollution and our emissions, it is natural growth in the presence of waste products. We each of us sit on a mountain of waste. We need to think of it as potential energy for changing the face of the world. It is my job to come up with simple systems that use the easily processed waste to create the resources for more complex systems that can process the more complex wastes. Basically, I am trying to make the snowball to chuck onto the avalanche slope.

      If you come to Korea in the future, please look me up. I tend to be more easily contactable at ianjamesgordon@gmail.com

      Keep your eyes open. We tend to see the obscure pretty quickly, but the blindingly obvious takes a little longer.



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