Errant European

Whatever just happened in Copenhagen – and I reserve judgment ’til I’ve read a comprehensive debrief – the underlying problem of carbon overproduction hasn’t gone away.

One thing is for sure: this post and millions like it, and the millions of emails and spam mails sent daily, will add their share of greenhouse gases to our planet’s already full atmosphere. I read somewhere that the spam sent to Hotmail accounts alone consumed the equivalent of the production of 5 nuclear power plants. Only they’re more likely to be coal-fired plants…

It’s like we’re in one big airplane, folks, Earth Airlines, breathing in that stale air constantly recirculated around us. The flight never ends, and fresh air is a relative concept. So am I going to cease blogging? Hardly. I’m already using public transport for most movement throughout Brussels, and I try to climb the staircase vice using the elevator in my building a good half of the time. But I still am dependent on electricity coming – in the case for Belgium and France – from a mix of nuclear and coal-fired power plants. I”m in the grid.

For Brussels and its surrounding countryside, the solid waste equivalent of the closed circuit effect was illustrated this past week with odoriferous obviousness. The private sector contractor in charge of the city’s main waste treatment facility decided, apparently without consulting the city (capital region) authorities, to shut down the facility and dump Brussels’ untreated effluent into the rivers flowing through and out of the capital.

Into someone’s back yard, that is. The backyard being the Flanders region, already prickly about the presence of the million Francophones, expatriates, and immigrants who make up Brussels, in their midst (Brussels is entirely surrounded by Dutch-speaking Flanders). Every time I flushed the toilet, I felt like saying “excuseer mevrouw en meneer” or some such thing.

The Francophone Brussels environment minister even had to scurry home from Copenhagen to handle the PR mess, since all she could do about the other mess was to frustratedly order the contractor to re-open the plant, which will be done – eventually.

The affair shows, with visual and nasal effect, how no man is an island, or how “down the drain” doesn’t end when you flush the toilet. Homeowners with septic tanks know that the honey-dipper must come or the system backs up; for those with municipal sewerage systems, it gets more complicated. But someone else always lives downstream.

Maybe politicians weren’t the right people to send to Copenhagen. How about some HVAC technicians to explain that polluted recirculated air remains polluted unless filtered? Better yet, stop polluting the air in the first place. Or plumbers, who know that garbage in will result in garbage out, unless purified to an acceptable level.

When it comes down to it, perhaps even in the hearts of the most die hard climate change deniers, it should be common sense and a sense of self-preservation that forces us to do the right thing. But as last week’s ballyhoo in Brussels over solid waste flowing downstream should show us, governments cannot count on their contractors to do the right thing or even the most basic of civic-minded actions. Not without controls, oversight, rules and regulations. The job of governments, and the people who elect them.

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This first appeared in my other blog, Avuncular American.

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