Foreword by Wendell Berry
If I urinated and defecated into a pitcher of drinking water and then proceeded to quench my thirst from the pitcher, I would undoubtedly be considered crazy. If I invented an expensive technology to put my urine and feces into my drinking water, and then invented another expensive (and undependable) technology to make the same water fit to drink, I might be thought even crazier. It is not inconceivable that some psychiatrist would ask me knowingly why I wanted to mess up my drinking water in the first place.
The "sane" solution, very likely, would be to have me urinate and defecate into a flush toilet, from which the waste would be carried through an expensive sewerage works, which would supposedly treat it and pour it into the river-from which the town downstream would pump it, further purify it, and use it for drinking water.
Private madness, by the ratification of a lot of expense and engineering, thus becomes public sanity. This is permitted by our habitual disregard of consequences. We live by buying and selling the causes of every conceivable blight from cancer to famine to holocaust-and are continually astonished to find that these causes have their inevitable effects. As a society, we never look behind us at the generations that will follow us and at the impediments we are throwing in their way.
The importance of this little book is that it begins in the awareness of effects. It proposes to solve the sewage problem by doing away with its cause. This solution springs from an elementary insight: it is possible to quit putting our so-called bodily wastes where they don't belong (in the water) and to start putting them where they do belong (on the land). When waste is used, a liability becomes an asset, and the very concept of waste disappears.
All this, of course, is the commonest of common sense. And, of course, it will seem outlandish and revolutionary to the sanitation engineers, the public health officials and experts, and the manufacturers who are mining their dollars out of the "sewage problem," and who therefore have little interest in solving it.
Meanwhile, Sim Van der Ryn and the waste-users he speaks for will have the comfort of being right. They are working at the beginnings of an authentic sanity.
Port Royal, Kentucky