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Presentation of Joseph Országh

Curriculum vitae

About my Scientific Works

Ecological Water Consumption Practices
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*In French, ‘EAU' means water, ‘AUTARCIE' means AUTARKY, or a self-sufficient system independent of outside influences: EAUTARCIE , [pronounced « Oh-tar-see »] is therefore a neologism...

The EAUTARCIE concept is one of the possible forms of ecological sanitation with a distinct feature : instead of focusing on the problems, it seeks out simple, efficient and economical solutions, at the root of the problems.  Another feature : it takes a holistic approach that examines diverse environmental impacts.

The text within this page was first published on December 2008

The original text has been adapted and translated by André Leguerrier. First published on this page at : 2009-06-15

Last update: 2016-02-21

About my Scientific Works

An « All-Inclusive » Scientific Approach

The technical solutions proposed by the EAUTARCIE system are so simple and elementary that the reader will legitimately wonder if there isn't a bit of empirical amateurism involved. « Building a dry toilet like the BLT or simply filtering rainwater for potable use cannot be the result of sophisticated research. » Many times have I heard this kind of reflection, which I originally had a hard time comprehending.

On the other hand, a growing number of households have adopted the system and are fully satisfied. I see proof of this every day from the abundant correspondence I receive from readers of the EAUTARCIE web site. It's only through the numerous questions received that I have come to realize how the apparent simplicity of the system hides a complex scientific reality that baffles even modern specialists. Yet I am no more intelligent or learned than my scientific colleagues, but I am forced to conclude that to understand my work requires an approach that lies off the beaten path, outside standard convention. What distinguishes me from others is my holistic and interdisciplinary approach.

As scientist, I adhere to an all-inclusive school of thought, whereby instead of doing research in one single specialty, I prefer adopting a global view that encompasses many different fields. Such an approach is rarely valued, sometimes even disdained. I don't complain, on the contrary. A specialist is somewhat limited to a narrow field of knowledge. Unless one is a universal genius, none can excel in all scientific spheres. Day-to-day and true-to-life problems rarely concern single individual specialists; they usually involve many more. Throughout my long career, I have realized that scientific specialization can inadvertently prevent the discovery of interesting solutions. This is why I have always insisted on delving into spheres that go beyond such limitations.

My status as an « outcast » from specialized circles, and being deprived of research funding by political, industrial and academic decision-makers have provided some advantages:

I could seek out solutions without having to preoccupy myself with industrial or political interest groups ;

I did not need to waste precious energy on publishing at all cost to satisfy sponsors of my research or to fill up my curriculum vitae.

The lack of funding forced me to seek – and find – the least expensive solutions. These in turn often proved themselves to be the simplest and most efficient solutions.

Throughout my career, I have observed the efficiency of this innovative and free-spirited approach. A non-specialist's perspective on problems provides an outside view and new insights, free of established views or preconceived notions or prejudices, with useful knowledge stemming from spheres outside a specialist's field. This method has permitted me to discover realities that are hidden by ideas and beliefs, or sometimes veiled by dominant scientific dogma.

However, I reserve the right to make mistakes. Like everyone else, I can be wrong. In my long career, when faced with new facts, several times have I had to adjust my stand on this or that problem [1]. Very often however, my initial intuition proved to be founded.

For example, I long struggled to convince the public to use dry toilets. Painful as it was, I had to admit the obvious: an overwhelming majority will refuse to consider abandoning the flush toilet. I did not think that the impregnation and composting centres that I described in 1999 would come to be so quickly. In 2011, the onset of the first such centre has completely changed the situation. Black water from domestic septic tanks is impregnated on cellulosic carbon-based matter to produce a highly valued organic soil amendment. So even in periurban or rural areas, resorting to dry toilets is no longer mandatory. Two options exist. Wastewater from low-flush toilets can be discharged into a sanitary sewer that would be exclusively reserved for black water that is conveyed to an impregnation and composting centre for treatment , or in a septic holding tank for later removal and treatment at said centre. Even those who live in city apartments may, in a near future (we hope), help protect the environment just as good as if they were using an appropriate dry toilet. When in the 1980s, I started talking about dry toilets, environmentalists were totally indifferent to my discourse. Twenty years later, they now realize how useful dry toilets are. Ironically, now that I assert that dry toilets are not absolutely necessary, they are scandalized.

Near the end of my career, at the start of each new academic year, I would encourage my students to keep a truly open mind when confronted to a scientific problem, like that of a child who ignores everything on life. Surprisingly, this is a difficult exercise that requires effort, especially when you are learned. Fortunately, I was not.

The main drawback of my choices was to be deprived of the means of diffusing the knowledge I had acquired. The results of my works and the approach that underlies them have upset the establishment on many levels:

Specialists find it hard to admit that a scientist from outside their circle can find solutions that they may have overlooked ;

In a world where all human activity is dictated by money and profit, the simple technical solutions that provide no financial benefit are doomed to failure. The means to protect the environment and save the biosphere are only accepted conditional that they can generate profit.

One can therefore understand political and economic decision-makers' disregard for my work. Up to now, no political or administrative authority and no environmentalist association have deemed useful to even examine my works, or even help me diffuse the ideas I defend to those who could care. I can only dream of such help.

The Starting Point of my Works

At the end of the 50's, I already had concerns about our planet's future. In spite of that epoch's scientifically triumphant euphoria, I felt a certain indefinable unease with regards to the technical advances and unrestricted extraction of all available resources. I disagreed with my colleagues who believed that science would resolve all of humanity's woes. Did my doubts stem from my youthful admiration of and nostalgia for Renaissance- or early industrial-period scientists? Who knows?

It was hard to find my path. For the first few years of my career, I did not know what to research. Like many, I forced myself to publish whatever I could, even if I had nothing to say. The prime objective was to fill up my curriculum vitae. As such, I was in fact only imitating my scientific bosses. While reviewing the track-record of many university « big bosses » of my entourage, I was disappointed to discover that many publications contained very little novelty, very often without any original idea. The impressive lists of publications of many of these bosses were really only variations of a theme that was already overexploited.

I was therefore glad of the opportunity to get away from all that when I left for tropical Africa. There, I was brutally confronted to harsher realities, the main of which was water supply. Like a child who is thrown in deep water, I quickly learned to swim instinctively, and I found my path.

In Lubumbashi, city of what was then called Zaire, I was dismayed to see that while tropical rains poured for weeks on end, the faucets within homes were desperately dried up. The idea of harvesting rainwater for domestic reuse became obvious. This was the starting point of a scientific approach to which I have dedicated the last 30 years of my university career. In fact, I am still pursuing my research (2015), 45 years after having built my first dry toilet and 43 years after having set up my first rainwater harvesting system for drinking water.

Rainwater and Hygienics

An analytical fact quickly imposed itself: throughout its natural cycle, it is when it falls from the sky that water is by far the cleanest. Considering increasing widespread water pollution at the time (1971), it was not difficult to surmise that in decades to come, rain would represent the only pure source of water to remain available to all.

Another discovery, not very scholarly (but it seemed to have been overlooked by my colleagues), was to notice that rainwater collected within a concrete cistern was of better overall quality than that which fell on a roof. When my colleagues talked about rainwater, they always referred to that water collected at meteorological stations. Such water did not interest me: it was too acid and mineral deficient. A concrete cistern, or one made of stone or concrete masonry always contains chemically neutral and lightly mineralized water: just enough to remain fresh (as in « freshwater ») and weakly calcareous.

Once its bacterial content removed, the water obtained was high quality potable water. I did not suspect that in my research, I was encroaching on the water industry's business. Naively, I believed that I needed only submit analytical facts to have everyone admit that rainwater microfiltration was the way to go. I proposed high quality potable water [2] for a fraction of the cost of bottled water. I thought that the environmentalists' debate about returnable plastic bottles would no longer be an issue: no more pollution from plastic bottles, their transport or cleaning.

This occurred more about 15 years ago. Nowadays,
bottled Tasmanian rainwater is sold at an exceedingly high price in luxury hotels. In contrast, such water is available to all at a cost of 0.01 to 0.02 € per litre when harvested and filtered as per the PLUVALOR system.

I had however overlooked resistance from the bottled drinking water monopolies. Since it could not contest my analytical facts to subdue me, this industry countered me by invoking its paramount argument: hygienics. This is a concept that originated at the end of the 19th century, and is in fact the basis of all current scientific medicine. It can be resumed in two points:

The source of most of our maladies are microorganisms, and as such, these originate from outside our bodies, and practically never from within us;

To prevent maladies, we need only kill all such living creatures in our vicinity.

I was therefore obliged to examine the real scientific basis of this viewpoint.

Having had my training in electrochemistry, I focused on the interface between electrochemistry and biology. This led me to discover the existence of an unbeknown scientific branch: bio-electronics, as developed in the 1950's by a Frenchman, Professor Louis-Claude Vincent. At the time, I did not know that the bio-electronics theory of Vincent (BEV) was a scorned science. My colleagues in the Faculty of Medicine quickly reminded me that it was considered a pseudo-science, without serious foundation. On the other hand, I also learned that for 20 years, BEV had been an accepted practice in French hospitals, and was still being used by some doctors.

Intrigued by this contradiction, I delved deeper into the scientific bases of BEV. My initial intent was to quash such a pseudo-science once and for all. It wouldn't be hard to find the problem: the notion of electronic activity, expressed by the rH2 value. Once I had collected all available data, I intended to write an article showing that BEV was unfounded. But to do this, I had to first understand Louis-Claude Vincent's philosophy, his way of thinking. I thus started by eliminating his errors of formulation. Yet, the more I delved in the theory, the more I realized how brilliant Vincent's thinking was. Not only was BEV not unfounded, but its applications in biology, medicine and electrochemistry opened up new and promising perspectives.

Happy with this discovery, I effectively worked on an article for the journal « L'actualité chimique » (i.e. « Chemical News ») published by the Société Française de Chimie, (i.e. French Chemical Society) of which I was a member. In my article, I called for the rehabilitation of W.M. Clark's rH notion, which was quashed in 1924 by the American Chemical Society in a procedure that turned out to be a sort of scientific inquisition. Ultimately, Vincent and his BEV were in later years to be unknowing victims of this earlier inquisition.

Thanks to BEV, I finally understood that the forming of (often toxic) organochlorinated compounds, after disinfection of water with chlorine, was only a minor aspect of this biocide's harmfulness. The modifications brought on by chlorine to our body's electronic activity were the source of slowly deteriorating health. Vincent therefore had been right when he claimed the harmful and insidious character of oxidizing water treatment. Chemical disinfection could therefore only be justified for public distribution networks (and yet still, you can find cities where centralized water distribution excludes the use of chlorine). The situation became altogether different when reusing rainwater for the home.

From a chemical and physical point of view, rainwater that was stored in a cistern without chlorine was perfect. You needed only eliminate the bacteria, not by chemical treatment, but by simple filtration.

Walloon Region Water Advisory Committee

In 1989, well after my return to Belgium from Africa, I became a member of the Commission des Eaux de la Région Wallonne (i.e. Walloon Region Water Advisory Committee). In this committee, which's role was to supervise the implementation of water legislation, I represented Belgium's « Friends of the Earth - International » Chapter. I was right up front to see and understand the country's water problems. The committee was specifically formed to resolve these problems. Universities were mobilized to find solutions for water supply and city wastewater treatment. The Walloon Region (3.2 million inhabitants) was about to invest an equivalent of five billion Euros for sanitation.

I expected that « my time had come »: to propose simple, inexpensive and efficient solutions. My PLUVALOR rainwater system could ensure the supply of high quality drinking water, while at the same time reducing demand on our traditional water reserves. My TRAISELECT selective grey water treatment system could provide answers to wastewater treatment in rural and residential suburban zones.

I was so pleased to present these solutions to the Committee, and show the approximate savings involved. My proposal involved reducing the overall area serviced by centralized wastewater treatment, by as much as 60 to 75%. The potential savings numbered in many billions of Euros. Plus, widespread rainwater harvesting as per the PLUVALOR system would have reduced city water consumption by at least 40%! The consequential improvement in drinking water quality could also be hoped to help reduce health insurance expenses.

The most spectacular result would have been for the environment. Badly polluted rivers and streams located near residential neighbourhoods could have been restored to their original purity in less than 2 years by the implementation of the TRAISELECT system. In the Walloon Region, trout and salmon fishing could have re-established themselves as leisure activities, even contributing to increased tourism.

Yet, following my presentation to the Water Advisory Committee, it was odd to see how the water distribution companies' discourse changed forthwith, when compared to their initial alarmist attitude in face of threatening water shortages and water pollution. They had been calling on the Committee to provide them with means to protect water reserves. After my exposé on the rainwater harvesting potential, these same gentlemen declared that « in the Walloon region, there is enough water, and it is of good quality: therefore, it is actually useless to reclaim rainwater ». Plus, « domestic use of rainwater is dangerous for public health ».

As for the reaction I got to my 1992 presentation on selective wastewater treatment, it was somewhat unpleasant (this being an understatement!), coming from all actors of the water industry: water distribution companies, sanitation plant companies, government representatives, sanitation engineers, etc. The potential savings and watercourse improvements did not seem to interest members of the Committee.

Established Views Are Enduring

I could understand the reactions of the most influential members of the Committee (mainly sanitation engineers), at least on a human level (if not on the scientific one). When a specialist who has devoted his life to conventional wastewater treatment is told that to protect the environment, it is in fact better not to treat wastewater, this can be somewhat frustrating. It was difficult for them to accept my « discovery » that current sanitation engineering is based on questionable scientific dogma, whereby it is decreed that city wastewater must be treated at all cost to protect the environment and public health.

To examine my approach, it obviously requires a certain flexibility and open mind. Yet, my proposal was simple: once you admit the notion that the end-result of wastewater treatment is not water purification, but rather the protection of the environment (and public health), than you discover the dubious and even harmful character of applying conventional sanitation techniques to treat city wastewater. Unfortunately for me, I quickly observed the saying that: there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

To comprehend my idea, you need only measure the nitrogen produced by water treatment and evaluate its environmental impact at a planetary scale. Conventional water treatment destroys nitrogenous organic matter by biological oxidation. It thus releases nitrogen in form of nitrates. These end up in nature, drained with the treated water, but mainly released with the sewage sludge. Tertiary treatment (denitrification and phosphorus removal) ends up being applied to only one tenth of the nitrogen that initially entered the sanitation plant. Ultimately, conventional treatment only succeeds in transforming precious organic matter into the biosphere's pollution by nitrates and phosphates [3].

But pollution by nitrates is not the most serious consequence. The removal of faecal biomass from nature's great carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles has more dire consequences. When you consider exploding world population, human faecal biomass – including urine – is not a negligible quantity. Its nitrogen content is the equivalent quantity of almost half of all nitrogen used in worldwide agriculture, the other half coming from animal dejecta. Synthetic fertilizers have currently replaced these natural soil amendments. In an overpopulated world where farmland is degrading and disappearing because of improper and insufficient addition of organic matter, we cannot permit ourselves the luxury of destroying precious human faecal biomass, simply for purposes of wastewater treatment. At the time, I did not realize that EAUTARCIE’s version of ECOSAN (that we call SAINECO) could come to be the starting point to keeping climate change in check, but I instinctively felt its importance.

Doubtless my proposed solutions to this problem became the pretext to dismiss my works. Implementation of my BLT (biolitter toilet) as a selective measure to replace black water treatment was deemed unacceptable. When people hear the word « dry toilet », their ears shut up and listen no longer. They close up to technically viable solutions, even for urban housing. That is most unfortunate, because the implementation of all my proposals would bring about immediate and spectacular results:

A 20 to 25 % reduction in city water consumption;

All of grey water would become available for agriculture, without expensive treatment, and especially without health risks;

Elimination of river pollution by the residential sector;

Farmland reclamation and soil regeneration from substantial added humus.

I obviously did not expect that my suggestions be considered without reservation and that water policies adhere to my views. But I did expect that they would at least be examined and tested via some sort of pilot-projects.

My works cast doubts on many established certainties in sanitation engineering. Another of my « discoveries » was to notice and especially bring forward a known analytical fact: wastewater discharge techniques have a negative environmental impact that far exceeds treatment techniques. When you compare discharge of wastewater into a river to its infiltration into the ground, the difference is spectacular. This is what led me to « rediscover » simple, efficient and inexpensive techniques, such as «  photo-purification  » (grey water treatment by means of daylight) and «  pedo-purification » (pollutants removed by the soil). Most environmentalists are shocked when they read that grey water purification is totally unnecessary, even through the use of plants. Phytoremediation of greywater in dry regions is an environmental wastage, due to water loss that occurs during the process.

I was therefore confronted to a series of established views that have dubious scientific basis. One of these views provides that the better you treat city wastewater, the better you protect the environment. When you actually measure the impact, it is in fact the converse that occurs: the more you treat water, the more you destroy the environment. This can seem absurd to water sanitation engineers. Yet, this can easily be verified by relatively simple experiments. You need only draw up a balance sheet of nitrogen with respect to city water treatment. If the quantity of nitrogen that enters a sanitation plant is defined at 100%, you must then measure the percentage of denitrified nitrogen, i.e. the quantity that is released from the sanitation plant along with the treated water and the sewage sludge. You must extend this assessment up to when sewage sludge is reused on farmland, and you will then discover that the great majority of nitrogen that enters the sanitation plant actually ends up in nature, in form of nitrate pollution [4].

Further transformation of sludge for biomethane production also releases organic nitrogen, in form of ammonium ions, which are just as harmful to the environment as nitrates. Plants' nitrogen absorption rates highly depend on when the sludge is spread on the land, and on what crops or plant species are to be grown.

To better understand the main harmfulness of wastewater treatment, it would be more appropriate to consider the biological value of wastewater's organic matter (i.e. potential humus) that is destroyed in the process. Unfortunately, sanitation engineers are not familiar with the process that transforms organic matter into stable humus for the soil. This leads me to point out another established view: it is presumed that to generate humus, you need simply incorporate organic matter in soil. This is altogether false.

Dry Toilets: the Best and the Worst

Those who have not attempted to understand my thinking assert that I want to force everyone to revert to latrines instead of flush toilets. You need not be learned to understand that this is untrue.

Yet, what remains true is that black water purification is a technique that should not exist in a sustainable world.

I knew all this over 30 years ago, but at the time, generalized use of dry toilets seemed totally utopian, and most incompatible with modern comfort. That was my conclusion when I looked upon dry toilets that were then on the market. In my analysis, I concluded that Scandinavian-type dry toilets that separated urine from faeces were just as polluting as standard WC's. They just as much destroyed the biosphere as flush toilets that were connected to the most efficient wastewater purification systems. The only advantage they presented was that they did not reject black water into rivers and streams. Such a report did not sit well with dry toilet manufacturers or « eco-intellectuals ».

Purification Using Plants: An Excuse Not to Face Up to the Actual Problems

In addition, I also discovered that domestic wastewater treatment through the use of plants definitely does not resolve the problems generated by flush toilets. Thereafter, not only was I repudiated by the water supply and treatment industries, but I had now attracted the enmity of environmentalists. The debate is still open. You need only search the web for « alternative » sanitation techniques to discover that propounded techniques include « constructed wetlands for sewage treatment » as well as « dry toilets ». This is a mistake that has grave consequences. Once you admit to the use of dry toilets, black water should no longer be a concern. Wastewater « treatment » using plants is useless, in fact becoming environmentally harmful from a holistic perspective.

Under scientific scrutiny, the most ingenious purification systems using plants reveal a truly disappointing reality. In the world's dry regions, such systems are even suicidal.

The BLT Principle: Biolitter Toilet

As an alternative, I propose a generalized use of the BLT principle. This involves a specific and distinct treatment (i.e. selective treatment) of grey water (soapy water) and the production of concentrated backwater (faecal sludge). The « faecal sludge » must also be treated selectively, but jointly and concurrently with cellulose-containing plant matter and the fermentable (organic) component of city waste. This is the only solution, if we are to restore domestic activities within the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. In financial terms, this option is less expensive than conventional sanitation, even in big cities, yet it protects the environment well beyond the most optimistic of predictions.

I must insist on the fact that this principle is even transposable to high-density city housing. My purpose is not to force everyone to dry toilets, and even less to latrines.

The BLT « Discovery »

It was in 1969 that I built my first dry toilet. My own family refused to use it. I therefore installed it in our garden shed. More than 10 years later, in 1980, I started to talk of my experience in public. At the time, my discourse on the need to stop using flush toilets made people smile. At my first conference on the subject, the audience had quite a laugh. It has since taken 25 years for the public to take this idea seriously, and it will no doubt take politicians and sanitation engineers another 50 years. Some people have nominated me as the inventor of the BLT. I however feel that such toilets must have already existed – without my knowing it. I rather claim the discovery of how the biolitter toilet works. Odours are controlled (more precisely inhibited) by enzymatic reactions in presence of plant cellulose. It is technically quite simple, but scientifically complex.

I made a chance discovery, that the addition of plant waste to dejecta prevents odours. My follow-up on this was scientific work, to understand the phenomenon [5].

The inhibition of the action of urease by cellulosic biomass has been demonstrated by NIMENYA H. et al., Ann. Med. Vet., Vol. 143, pp. 409-414 (1999).

Mixing dejecta with plant cellulose starts a process of humus formation. In contrast, holding dejecta, without cellulose, triggers a process of deconstruction of organic matter. When dejecta have been « digested » without plant cellulose, it no longer becomes possible to make humus: dejecta ultimately become pollution and a contributing factor to soil destruction. The spreading of industrial pig manure on farmland is a blatant example of this. Dry toilets that separate urine from faeces generate an end-product that is just as polluting as that produced by industrial pig manure farming. It is without a doubt one of my important « discoveries ».

The BLT principle thus consists in accepting that to restore human dejecta (and those of animals too) back into the cycle of humus formation, you must add plant cellulose as soon as the excreta are produced, or at least before the onset of spontaneous enzymatic deconstruction in the faecal matter. In addition, to trigger the process of humus formation, the water contained in urine is satisfactory. For technical reasons, you may also add other water, but only a little, much less than what WC flushes supply.

Contributing to Climate Change Reduction

My scientific approach goes way beyond issues of wastewater treatment or potable water supply. These techniques are only the starting point of what is required to contribute efficiently to reducing climate changes and to solving worldwide water problems definitively. Both are intimately linked. For further reading, go to the article on Keys to Curbing Climate Change.

It's at this level that I formulated a « fundamental law » for how the biosphere works:

«  Each kilogram of plant and animal (including human) biomass that is destroyed on the pretext of wastewater treatment or for energy production purposes contributes to the biosphere's unbalance and becomes a source of water pollution. »

Sanitation engineers do not seem to realize the fact that incorrect biomass management is the source of all our water problems worldwide (depletion of resources, pollution, droughts and floods). Current water management techniques are accepted and even imposed worldwide: they only serve to perpetuate, and even aggravate our water problems. Fortunately, alternative solutions exist, even if for now, they are either dismissed or forbidden.

To get the world out of its water problems and reduce climate changes, the first initiatives should be to launch pilot-projects to test and improve preventive techniques that address problems at their point of origin. The results of such experiments should be used to launch a global program of sustainable biomass management.

Biomass Used for Energy Production

Another dubious and potentially dangerous idea is to admit plant biomass as a substitute renewable energy resource, instead of conventional fossil fuels. Notwithstanding the ongoing debate on this matter, the issue of farming for energy production instead of food production (as propounded by environmentalists) is really a minor aspect of the problem.

Once you accept the aforementioned « fundamental law », you cannot help but understand how environmentally wasteful are large-scale biofuel production (e.g. biodiesel, bioethanol, biomethane) and excessive plant waste combustion (e.g. straw, forestry and farmland wastes, wood fibre and coffee grounds for artificial fire logs or wood pellets used in boilers). This does not mean that we must abandon biomass valorization as an energy source, but that it should be done otherwise than by direct combustion.

Throughout my concerns on ecosystem regeneration, the scientific input of three unrecognized geniuses has helped me a great deal. These are: Jean Pain, Paul Moray and Louis Kervran.

Jean Pain: A Forerunner in Helping Save the Planet

Thanks to the works of a Frenchman, Jean Pain, we have known for up to 40 years that aerobic composting of plant matter releases energy in a way comparable to that obtained from direct combustion of the said plant matter. Composting that is done using the Jean Pain method, using heat exchangers, can produce hot water attaining a temperature of 35 to 45°C and lasting for up to 3 to 6 months (sometimes more). Such « low temperature » heat is perfectly adapted for the pre-heating of buildings. In contrast to direct combustion that may leave only ashes as end-product, this composting method provides compost that can be reused for soil regeneration and fertilization. Also, unlike what happens with biofuel combustion, once the plant matter has delivered its heat, the resulting compost returns to the earth for the benefit of ecosystems. Farming for energy production is clearly inappropriate in a world of sustainable development.

Beyond the importance and amount of heat produced, the striking difference between combustion and composting of carbon-based matter is that direct combustion irrevocably devours and destroys all of the carbon biomass by converting it into extra atmospheric CO2 as well as inorganic ash, whereas the composting process stores and amasses all of the carbon biomass by transforming it into organic humus (without any by-product), thereby producing a matter that can be used to regenerate soils and improve their innate fertility.

Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW) Technique

Concerning the Jean Pain method, it's important to mention another method of agricultural valorization that has been developed in Canada, the ramial chipped wood (RCW) method. It is a key technique to be used to regenerate damaged ecosystems throughout the world. However for this purpose, the Canadian technique must be slightly modified.

Before spreading RCW on land, it would be useful that it be first hydrated and composted to generate low temperature heat production, as in the Jean Pain method. At the end of this energy cycle, part of the compost end-product will be returned to the forest where the RCW was harvested, in order to maintain its own production. The other part will be used to fertilize farmland.

Compost obtained from RCW can also be used for forest replanting in semi-arid regions.

The Jean Pain method is only one of the available ecosystem regeneration techniques.

Another Unrecognized Forerunner: Paul Moray

Another key to countering climate change is desert reclamation. Historically, we know that many present-day deserts were not so long ago thriving regions of farmland, wooded prairies and even forests. The regions surrounding the Mediterranean provide numerous examples.

We also know that soil and climate interactions are reciprocal: climate determines the soil, and vice versa. Thus, it is indisputable that desertification is a reversible process.

It's at this level that we find a technique developed by another Frenchman, Paul Moray. His thinking was simple: instead of planting trees, you must sow them. Here again, the apparent simplicity of this method hides a more complex scientific explanation.

Like Jean Pain, Paul Moray was also a self-taught professional who initially knew absolutely nothing of forestry. He was a French language professor who had a passion for tree-related mythology and for the etymology of tree names. It was during one of his field trips with his students that he got a precious insight on a particular problem.

In a dry region of Southern France, after having crossed valley-strewn peach and apricot orchards, one of his students drew his attention to a peach tree that was growing at the top of a rocky and arid cliff. The tree held many fruit, yet without any sign of watering or irrigation. At the bottom of the same valley, the same trees could not survive without continuous irrigation. What was the « secret » of this spontaneous growth (from seed), the tree's survival, and even the production of luscious fruit? Further along the cliff, he found other fruit trees that grew and prospered in the same « impossible » conditions: even at the top of old ruins atop ancient fortresses.

Intrigued by this phenomenon, he eventually understood that after seeding, a tree seed issues two germs, one oriented upwards, and the other downwards. The downward germ is the first to develop, eventually generating what is called a « taproot » that grows down through rock cracks and crevices in search of the water table, which can go to a depth as much as 50 meters. The upward germ will not start growing until the taproot has found water and fully developed.

This is a process that occurs in tree nurseries too. However, when transplanting, the taproot is more often cut off and the replanted tree cannot regenerate a new taproot. In dry regions, such a tree cannot survive without irrigation. To start-up a new orchard or forest on a sunburnt desert coast, you must ultimately start from seed.

This may appear simple, but is rather more complex to implement. Paul Moray eventually developed a seeding technique for a great number of tree species, using exactly the Jean Pain method. His technique is one of the keys to transforming desert areas into flourishing orchards, there where even goats could not find food. It is also a technique that can free fertile valleys for other crops that cannot thrive without irrigation.

Yet, Paul Moray's work only reaped hostility from forestry specialists. The woods that had been sown in this way by his students on abandoned wasteland were ripped out by representatives of the regional Water and Forest Administration. He was harassed by authorities and police to a point where his health ultimately suffered. He died a disgusted man, abandoned by all.

Forest Fires: Fatality or Stupidity?

Historically, forests have maintained good health, even in arid and inhabited regions of the planet. In the last few decades, fires have been destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest annually. To extinguish these fires, considerable human and financial resources are invested, with frankly poor results, if any.

In Europe, Jean Pain was the first to put forth the cause of these disasters and propose simple, efficient and inexpensive solutions.

Why did these forests maintain themselves for centuries? Simple: before the industrial age, the population used small wood for heating and cooking. The felling of trees in forests owned by nobility was forbidden. However, gathering dead branches and cutting back bushes around trees was authorized. Result: eventual summer forest fires were only fed by dry grass, which has too little heating value to damage trees. Bushes, which are essential to forest fauna, were then situated far from forest paths, and from potential smokers.

In Southern France (a dry region), Jean Pain undertook to cut back each year the forest underbrush in that part of the forest that had been entrusted to his care. The plant matter obtained was then composted, part of which was then restored to the forest floor, the other part being used for crops [7]. The 300 hectares of forest that was managed in this way showed up on aerial photographs as an island of lush greenery surrounded by neighbouring forests ravaged by fires. Forest fires equally crossed through his parcel of forest every year, but in the absence of sufficient underbrush fuel, his trees were spared.

With the help of
heat exchangers, part of the compost was used to heat his house with the heat generated by the compost itself. Another part was fermented to produce methane that served in the kitchen and supplied fuel for his automobile and plant shredder.

Encouraged by the results, Jean Pain proposed to experiment his method, to the local Water and Forest Administration. The implementation of his method would have helped reduce forest fires and safeguard threatened forests. But like Paul Moray, he too suffered hostility and harassment from authorities and police. He too died miserable and totally misunderstood.

Towards a Sustainable World

The march towards a sustainable world is at the centre of my scientific thinking [8]. As previously discussed, I don't allege having worked out all these ecosystem regeneration techniques. If there is one thing I can claim as my own, it's the discovery that techniques developed by others (e.g. by scorned scientists like Louis-Claude Vincent, Louis Kervran, Jean Pain and Paul Moray) mutually complete themselves, and that they fit within an array of innovative solutions to promoting sustainable development.

Ever since my involvement with the Walloon Region Water Advisory Committee in the 1980's, it has taken 25 years for a few specialists to finally (re)discover what I have propounded for years (while being largely shunned by decision-makers). Even in 2000 at the « Journées Information Eau » in Poitiers (an annual symposium on water management), many colleagues looked upon me as a lunatic after I presented my views on sanitary engineering. Hopefully, reason will prevail in face of the facts.

We are used to hearing that climate change is due to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), due mainly to oil, gas and coal combustion. This is true, but we often forget that incorrect biomass management also releases an important quantity of GHG and destroys precious carbon sinks. Short of minimizing the detrimental effects of improper energy management, it's important to note that systematic biomass destruction probably has as much impact in this respect.

Among the ongoing destructive techniques, here are a few examples:

Industrialized agricultural production: producing anything, anywhere, anyhow, as long as it brings profits. In the near future, such agricultural practices will be unable to adequately feed the growing world population;

Massive worldwide deforestation, including from forest fires;

Biomass destruction for energy production, by way of combustion;

Biomass destruction for water treatment purposes;

Improper organic and cellulose waste management.

In the present situation, it becomes urgent to implement a worldwide biomass management program. Simple, efficient and inexpensive solutions do exist, but it takes the political will to get them started and working. Most of these techniques are presently dismissed, or simply outlawed.

A worldwide biomass management program would cost less than what it costs to build irrigation canals, dams, water supply and conveyance networks and sewage treatment systems. A political shift towards ecosystem regeneration techniques and problem-prevention at the source would get the world out of its water problems in less than two generations (about 50 years) and would reduce climate change accordingly.


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