Washington Matters


Really Getting into the Muck



There's no polite way to say this, so I'll just say it -- poop, as well as other waste, is much in the news of late. And that's not only a good thing, it's something that could and should influence debate in the presidential and congressional campaigns.

For your consideration:

  • One of the largest U.S. meat and dairy companies just announced plans to convert cow waste and methane into electricity and turn byproducts into material that can be used to clean animal bedding and for soil enhancement. Not only would the process turn a huge disposal headache into profitable energy and products, it could eventually earn the company lucrative carbon credits because it would reduce harmful emissions.
  • People are taking classes to learn how to use worms for composting food scraps. Not only does the garbage not end up in a landfill, but the resulting worm "castings" (poop) are one of the best organic fertilizers around.
  • One company has made tons of cash and a name for itself by packaging and selling worm castings, as well as producing a number of organic materials and products from waste of all types.
  • Peru is having to take increased steps, including armed security, to protect its diminishing supply of guano -- a natural fertilizer lusted after on and off for centuries by imperial powers and other poop poachers.
  • And in yet another instance of "The Simpsons" proving prophetic (Homer got into the grease stealing business a decade ago), The New York Times reported Friday that the rapidly rising price for used deep fryer fat is prompting a grimy crime wave -- thefts from fast food restaurants and diners nationwide.
The point of all this (beyond the universal blogger affection for all references scatological and Simpson-onic) is not just that scarcity and the free market can lead to innovation and crime.

It's that the world is beginning to learn lessons both from global warming and the scarcity and cost runup of virtually any commodity (guano? used grease?) and are figuring out how to use, reuse, stretch and conserve these commodities and natural resources.  And politicians of both parties -- and the nominees of both parties -- ought to harness that interest by turning it into a leading political issue. I'd venture to say that at any campaign stop, a candidate could find an example of individual, corporate, municipal or collaborative green ingenuity -- unique recycling programs, water-saving programs,  trash-to-gas energy projects, incentives for reducing waste disposal and energy use, and alternative commuting projects.

Pointing to projects like these and devising federal programs that encourage them could be much more than a call for conservation and increased reliance upon alternative forms of energy. Campaigns are usually, at least in part, a debate over national character. And at least four long malnourished aspects of American character are ripe for discussion -- sacrifice, frugality, creativity and a fierce and prideful independence. Americans are willing to make sacrifices and to scrimp for causes they understand and sympathize with. And there are plenty of signs that Americans want to help with environmental and scarcity issues -- recycling programs keep expanding, green products are a major commercial selling point, people are more willing to shun unnecessary packaging, and many are reducing their driving and their energy use at home.

With the nation facing astounding price increases for energy and food and beginning to understand that much of these increases are the due to longterm lifestyle, economic and policy choices, a candidate who can rally people behind a plan that tackles those problems by appealing to these long-underutilized national character traits could turn his or her campaign into an appeal for national renewal. And such appeals have the potential to turn into movements -- in this case a movement fueled by grit, ingenuity and a good bit of poop.





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