Cities of all sizes are built upon sewage systems based on an array of fossil fuel inputs – and the levees are starting to overflow. Time to give this shit a re-think.

Thanks to our fondness for industrial civilization, climate change accelerates unabated. But do we really have any interest in giving up our New York City-styled, fossil-fueled, free lunch?

A sewage treatment plant in Hamburg, Germany: The shit never looked so pretty (photo by Mark Michaelis)
A sewage treatment plant in Hamburg, Germany: The shit never looked so pretty (photo by Mark Michaelis)

The Dr. Pooper Papers, Issue #3:

Just this past week the City of Toronto was informed by the Ministry of the Environment that it must now notify the public whenever water treatment plants are bypassed and raw sewage is sent into Lake Ontario. These occurrences are said to be due to heavy rains taking their toll on Toronto's "old sewer system," something that is said to occur about three times a month, year round.

According to Mark Mattson, director of the charity Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Toronto's streets and harbours were inundated with more than a billion litres of sewage in July 2013, when more than 90mm of rain fell on the city in just two hours. This, however, doesn't seem to be a freak occurrence, as New York State similarly enacted laws this summer requiring public notification within four hours of raw sewage being sent into its watersheds.

"I think there's a real demand for this information," said Mattson, a point that's hard to refute since the "boaters, paddlers and hikers on many of the rivers and trails" that Mattson mentions likely don't want to come across invasions of floaters on their Saturday afternoon strolls.

But where Mattson gets it wrong, I think, is in his assessment of the problem. As he puts it, "people don't really realize that in Toronto we've got these 70-year-old pipes based on a totally antiquated understanding of how the city works." And as the Toronto Star article further explains, "the current sewers were built with different demands in mind, and... the aging infrastructure is failing to keep pace." In other words, Mattson (and perhaps even the Toronto Star) don't really grasp how cities "work," nor realize what are at the heart of the demands of "current sewers."

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Yeah I said it

Following the Pope's climate change Encyclical by about two months, last week one of the world's most respected climate researchers, former NASA scientist James Hansen, laid down the gauntlet with 16 other scientists and released his latest climate change findings. As should be expected by now, the news is that climate change continues to accelerate unabated.

To be honest I only read the paper's abstract, partly because I don't see much point in paying too much attention to climate change prognostications anymore, and partly because I'm much more interested and concerned about peak oil, financial collapse, and their roles in the greater collapse of industrial civilization (which climate change will play an increasing role in as time goes on). As much as I tend to take long-term views on things, in the short term, it appears that encroaching oceans are the least of our worries, overshadowed by the emerging collapses of the energy extraction business and the monetary system.

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