Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Unclean Energy

I am astounded how some impoverished nations have found ways to overcome their circumstances by developing unconventional ways of producing energy or supplying sustenance for their communities. I was watching a program on the History Channel about India. First of all, I was very impressed by the irrigation system in Calcutta. They have built these deep trenches for the city sewage to flow into. The solid waste settles to the bottom, and the clean water from the surface of the trench is filtered into a shallow trench that is used to irrigate wetland farms. The deep trenches containing the “unclean” water are filled with certain types of plant life that naturally filter out the harmful heavy metals, therefore making the water capable of sustaining fish, which are no longer at risk of being contaminated. These fish, in turn, are caught and sold in local markets, drastically reducing the price that the members of the local community are required to pay for fresh fish. And that’s not all. On a rotating schedule, the trenches are drained. The natural waste is then harvested from the bottom of the drained trench and used as fertilizer for crops. Yeah, it’s a dirty job, but it sure is efficient!

Then, there was a teacher in a very rural community in India who has developed a way to use animal dung to make batteries. (He uses salt to cause a chemical reaction of some sort. It was a little above my head.) The batteries are about the size of a coffee can. Four of them could power a radio, and eight of them could power a television. The batteries last something like 48 days. And obviously there is an endless supply of dung to make new batteries. It’s basically free energy.

The thought that struck me while watching this program was that these ideas have already been developed, and are clearly not very complicated, as they are being used in very poor, very rural areas. Yet in the “first-world” we are not using these very practical, planet-saving ideas because they are just too uncivilized. Meanwhile, our “civility” is costing more money and doing more damage than ever before. I’m not saying everybody should have a case of poo powering their TV in their living room, but we sure could stand to learn a thing or two from those who have developed solutions to their problems out of pure desperation. Solutions born of desperation are often much simpler… and cleaner.

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