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"Therefore the Sage says:
Only he who accepts the country's filth,
Can become lord of its sacred soil."

Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching 78th Chapter

The text within this page was first published in French on www.eautarcie.com : in 2004

The original text has since been adapted and first published in English on this page at www.eautarcie.org : 2009-10-29

Last update : 2010-01-13

Il nostro rapporto con i nostri escrementi

Our Health is Conditioned by a Healthy Soil

The 20th century's green revolution has led agriculture into a suicidal catch-22, whereas its initial purpose was to thwart recurring food shortages. Specialists don't realize that the problem lies in our will to «dominate» food production and to extract maximum yields from the earth. This has become a sort of obsession for agricultural technicians. The advent of synthetic fertilizers inevitably entailed the need for synthetic phytosanitary chemicals (fungicides, pesticides, herbicides). These in turn have destroyed agricultural ecosystems to a point where many wonder if we really have any choice other than moving on to the next destructive step for our farmlands: genetically engineered organisms (GMO'S). This diabolical state of affairs has already provoked spectacular health incidents, and it is most likely that worst is yet to come.

In the course of my numerous discussions with faculty colleagues working in agronomy and food production sciences, their arguments have always been that without intensive agrochemical agriculture, humanity would be starving to death. I personally think that the problem cannot be confined to simple statistics of production yields. These have effectively increased. But we tend to forget that:

In developing countries, populations are still facing food shortages, notably because the best land is earmarked for speculative export crops while food crops have been redirected to less fertile fringe farmland areas;

In richer countries, most farmland is used to feed livestock rather than for actual human food crops; these countries' populations feed on low quality meat, leading to «junk food»-related maladies;

Feeding a vegetarian requires 10 to 20 times less farmland than it does for a meat eater;

Millions of hectares of good farmland are disappearing each year due to soil and humus erosion provoked by «modern» agricultural practices.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read what recommendations were given to a farmer who had brought a soil sample from his land for analysis by a specialized lab, after having first filled in a questionnaire on the yields previously obtained and the crops intended on his plot of land. The lab's analysis dealt with nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) and certain elements (magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, etc.). To obtain the optimal yield for the farmer's intended crop, a listing of nutrients was set-up based on the analysis. The number of kilos per hectare of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc. was thus established. This type of practice reveals a total disregard of the intimate relation between earth and plants.

The soil is not simply a mineral environment in which grow plants in search of nutrients. Fertile soil is an ecosystem in which billions of organisms live in symbiosis to ensure that plants sprout and grow: the basis of life on Earth. Plants that transform solar energy into biomass connect man directly to the Cosmos [1]. It is not exaggerated to state that all soil organisms as a whole constitute a sort of living being. Despite appearances, a plant that grows in a substrate lacking soil organisms and enhanced with chemical fertilizers is a sick plant, which also inevitably attracts parasites. This leads us to the catch-22 situation requiring the use of phytosanitary chemicals. Ultimately, a plant's health depends on that of the soil.

[1]
To better understand this statement, which may astonish some, it would be useful to read Rudolf Steiner's 1924 lectures to farmers in the book «Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method» by Rudolf Steiner: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004. Biodynamic proponents who idolize these writings tend to oversimplify Steiner's notions by saying that «the planets influence plant development». Steiner in fact only claimed that the movements of the planets constitute a kind of «cosmic clock», an indicator of the moments when plant development is optimal. For the few billion years that plants have existed on Earth, their biorhythm has adapted to Earth's cosmic neighbours. It is therefore not surprising to observe experimental correlations between the positions of planets (including the Moon) and plant development or particular plant characteristics.

We also know that without plants, there can be no animal or human life. On the other hand, animals and humans are just as indispensable for plants: their excreta and remains, combined with those of plants, supply food to all living soil organisms. In this way, the nutrient cycle in the soil ecosystem is a closed-loop. Consequently, when part of this chain becomes sick, so does the entire cycle.

Our Repugnance towards our Dejecta

Most traditions, including our own Western traditions, confer a fundamental role to earth. Man was created from the earth, and upon his death, returns to the earth. Is this not a perfect illustration of a great natural cycle? Our relationship with earth constitutes a pivotal element for the future of humanity. Yet, Judeo-Christian tradition has hidden away an important link in this cycle – humankind's return to the earth – by ascribing the worst abominations to our excreta. The environmental consequences of such a misconception are so great that they can only be compared to the greenhouse effect resulting from irresponsible combustion of our fossil fuel reserves. On a scientific level, the emergence of hygienics and sanitary engineering in the 19th century have profoundly modified this cycle, unfortunately not in the right direction.

The heart of the problem lies in our relationship with our excreta. Instead of developing a pragmatic vision, we try to hide away this relationship, both literally and figuratively.
As the saying goes, sleep is the brother of death. In like fashion, defecating brings us a bit upon the threshold of death, yet like sleep, this is not a definitive state, but the starting point of a new life.

Usage of a BLT is influenced by our conditioning and our education in the first years of our life. In infancy, a child is taught to beware of his dejecta because they are vectors of disease. He will often hear that «excrement is dirty». And the smell that arises from his excreta will support this verdict. Before the age of two, we are «formatted» in many aspects. Some people can modify this «initial program», others cannot [2].

[2]
In my conferences on the BLT, I often tell the story of Florentine whose parents had adopted the BLT before her birth. Even as an infant, her small chamber pot already held litter. Her parents, members of Friends of the Earth often spoke about «water pollution». Florentine thus understood the notion at her level. It was at the age of 5 while visiting friends that she first looked upon a flush toilet. She came out immediately, telling her mom that «there is water in the pot». Her mother reassured her by saying that it was a chamber pot with water. After about a minute, Florentine again came out of the toilet room declaring that «something is really not right». In response to her mother, she insisted: «But we mustn't dirty water, it isn't right!». I find in this child's words more wisdom and common sense than what you will find in a science book on sanitary engineering.

As Joseph Jenkins also expresses it,

«The problem is not practical, it is psychological. Many people may consider the idea of composting their own excrement to be beneath them. In India, such a task was relegated to the «untouchables», the lowest caste of society. The act of carrying a container of one's own excrement to a recycling bin is an act of humility, and humility is sometimes in short supply.»[3].

[3]
Excerpt from «The Humanure Handbook : A Guide to Composting Human Manure », page 155, Joseph Jenkins Publishing Inc., 3rd edition, 2005.

Our embedded repulsion to our excreta (or «fecophobia» as Joseph Jenkins calls it) gives rise to aberrations on health, hygiene, agriculture and sanitation, and, at the end of the chain, the destruction of ecosystems. These aberrations completely disorganize and destroy the unity between man, animal, plants, soil, water and the environment. Worldwide environmental problems take root in this basic mistake, except when they are the consequence of humankind's energy consumption.

Hygienics : An Ideology of Unsustainable Development

Hygienics and Health

Our repugnance towards our dejecta has developed a vision that is far removed from the realities that relate micro-organisms to disease. While the full technical arsenal of biology and medicine are mobilized to prove that most of the ills affecting humanity take root in those microscopic beings present in human and animal dejecta, we seem to have overlooked the fact that for thousands of generations, our immune system has been genetically programmed to live in a dynamic balance with these microscopic beasts. Conversely, reactions to synthetic biocides have not been integrated into our genetic program. Doctors who treat allergies could expand on this subject. The most dangerous micro-organisms are often found precisely in hospitals where hygienics is the rule.

The ideology of hygienics has been disastrous for worldwide water management. Besides the fundamental problem with potable water, it assimilates water as a substance that purifies, cleans and washes away all impurities. What hygienics overlooks is that by washing away our filth, water itself becomes soiled.

Wastewater Management

So be it – say sanitary engineers – we shall then treat it. Such reasoning has begotten a series of incorrect technical solutions that have put water in the spotlight as a major environmental, economic and political concern. Worst of all is that industrial proponents of these techniques have, by their successful lobbying of politicians and regulating authorities, effectively bound worldwide water legislation such that it bars the way to other more realistic techniques. Disinformation of a public that has been conditioned by the ideology of hygienics for over a century constitutes a sure way of maintaining continued institutionalized aberrations on water management. We have entered an escalatory spiral of pollution/de-pollution, where scarcer and scarcer water resources will increasingly shift into the hands of those who will use it as a means to exert pressure tactics and domination.

Nevertheless, the solution's starting point is to fully become aware of the fact that human and animal dejecta must not be considered as waste to be eliminated for purposes of treatment or de-pollution, but that they are an integral part of the biosphere that must be fully recycled. They constitute our essential link to the earth. Our planet's health depends on them, for this will determine available food for future generations, and even possibly life on the planet as we know it.

The idea is not a new one. What did Victor Hugo say on this subject well over a century ago in his book «Les Misérables»?

«Paris casts twenty-five millions yearly into the water. And this without metaphor. How, and in what manner? Day and night. With what object? With no object. With what intention? With no intention. Why? For no reason. By means of what organ? By means of its intestine. What is its intestine? The sewer.

Twenty-five millions is the most moderate approximative figure which the valuations of special science have set upon it.

Science, after having long groped about, now knows that the most fecundating and the most efficacious of fertilizers is human manure. The Chinese, let us confess it to our shame, knew it before us. Not a Chinese peasant—it is Eckberg who says this,—goes to town without bringing back with him, at the two extremities of his bamboo pole, two full buckets of what we designate as filth. Thanks to human dung, the earth in China is still as young as in the days of Abraham. Chinese wheat yields a hundred fold of the seed. There is no guano comparable in fertility with the detritus of a capital. A great city is the most mighty of dung-makers. Certain success would attend the experiment of employing the city to manure the plain. If our gold is manure, our manure, on the other hand, is gold.

What is done with this golden manure? It is swept into the abyss.

Fleets of vessels are despatched, at great expense, to collect the dung of petrels and penguins at the South Pole, and the incalculable element of opulence which we have on hand, we send to the sea. All the human and animal manure which the world wastes, restored to the land instead of being cast into the water, would suffice to nourish the world.

Those heaps of filth at the gate-posts, those tumbrils of mud which jolt through the street by night, those terrible casks of the street department, those fetid drippings of subterranean mire, which the pavements hide from you (NB : the sewers),—do you know what they are? They are the meadow in flower, the green grass, wild thyme, thyme and sage, they are game, they are cattle, they are the satisfied bellows of great oxen in the evening, they are perfumed hay, they are golden wheat, they are the bread on your table, they are the warm blood in your veins, they are health, they are joy, they are life. This is the will of that mysterious creation which is transformation on earth and transfiguration in heaven.» [4]

[4]
Excerpt from Book second, Chapter I, The Intestine of the Leviathan, THE LAND IMPOVERISHED BY THE SEA (from a translation by Isabel Hapgood, available from the University of Adelaide Library website).

More practically speaking, let's say that human dejecta (from flush toilets) and animal dejecta (from industrial livestock farming over slatted floors) don't have their place in water. Discharging dejecta in water is a terrible wastage and it's the number one cause of ecosystem degradation, where water is becoming more and more rare and unhealthy. In this sense, the basic principle of urban wastewater treatment is incompatible with the concept of sustainable development.

For further reading on these issues, go to the pages on Ecological Sanitation.

To continue reading on dry toilets, go to chapter on Three generations of dry toilets.

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