Build it and they will come … unfortunately

by Yule Heibel on May 30, 2003

Here’s a story from a local newpaper that illustrates, in my opinion, what’s wrong with the way we’ve managed to set up our lives in society. Since the link will break in a few weeks, I’ll summarize: business people hopefully predict that fear of BSE will spur investment in plants — factory-sized machines — that render harmless the waste derived from beef production. There is a company in Calgary, BioSphere Refineries Corp., that can build “industrial-scale plants” at a cost of $10-12 million. The plants can handle up to 25,000 tonnes of raw material annually. The technology is touted as a way of “disposing of dead, downed and diseased cattle as well as high-risk tissues such as brains and spinal cords.” Farmers would be encouraged “to bring in dead animals that might otherwise be disposed of on their property, resulting in potential soil and ground water contamination.” The process involves heating the animal remains to 180 degrees Celsius under 12 atmospheres of pressure for 40 minutes. It renders the remains safe for landfills; they could even be used as “fertilizer on non-grazing land” and the plants could possibly include “an anaerobic digester that could transform the pressure cooked material into biogas to produce heat and electricity.”

So, what’s wrong with that? What disturbs me is that we’re planning for waste and garbage on an industrial scale, which means that we will have to produce “material” (in this case cows) — we will have to continue to produce the “material” on an industrial scale — to provide the garbage. Even if 50% of the western world turned vegetarian tomorrow, we’d have a hard time stopping the juggernaut. We’d just end up putting more cows into the landfill instead of into our stomachs: the mechanism is in place to keep production going. There’s a logic to it. Build plants that can efficiently cook 25,000 tonnes of waste per year, and those plants will demand their due. We have created artificial stomachs that need feeding, just as we ourselves are turning into living garbage remediators. Industrial scale “food production” here clearly shows that it’s also about industrial scale garbage production. And if we build the garbage handlers, we’ll keep producing the garbage.

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