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Byron Shire
August 6, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Climate Change, Coal and the Flushing Toilet

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I believe flushing toilets are part of a deep psychology of denial and laziness around our human inability to take responsibility for our impact.

Sometimes I wonder why people seem to have stopped caring about climate change. Is it because it’s too big? Is it because we have a Prime Minister who is in a dirty love triangle with coal and gas? Or is it the convenience of the flushing toilet?

I lay in bed the other morning listening as someone in the far recesses of my house flushed a loo. I wondered, from the sanctuary of my repose, about the convenience of the detritus of our ablutions being taken away from our residence with the push of a button! Like Magic! Poo is here. Poo is gone. It’s like there never was poo. Evidence of the human stain on the planet is whisked away. And unlike so many women in the world without a flushing toilet, I never had to lift a finger. I never had to dig a hole. I never had to carry a bucket. It’s just gone. I haven’t even left my bed.

Can we please have a climate change button? Something we can push so that someone else can deal with it? Ah, there in lies the rub. Just because something is ‘gone’, doesn’t mean it’s no longer a problem. It just means it’s gone from my realm of responsibility, so the soothing flush of my waste is also my agency over my impact being whisked away.

It’s not really gone. It’s just gone from where I have to deal with it. It’s gone in a pipe, to a treatment works, then into rivers or into the ocean. While the systems are certainly better in first world countries, 80 per cent of the world’s sewage is discharged into the ocean untreated. The ocean is a great place to hide our waste because we don’t see it. The ocean is so big.

I believe flushing toilets are part of a deep psychology of denial and laziness around our human inability to take responsibility for our impact. If you had to literally deal with your own shit, I think you’d be more aware of your footprint. It’s the same with garbage services. We just put stuff in a bin and it magically disappears from our premises. Not as magic as the flushing toilet, it does require a couple of hi vis operators in a truck, but as long as you remember to put the bin out, then the evidence of how you live is gone. Taken away to be dealt with by someone else.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my bin service and my flushing loo. I am not fantasising about the days of the gong farmer (someone who dug out human excrement from privies and cesspits) or the Shit Carters. What I am wondering about is if this psychology of convenience is something we need to disrupt. Climate change seems to be the cancer the first world has created with our need for convenience. Convenience lies at the heart of our economics. It’s one of our key drivers. It is the drug we won’t give up.

Climate change is not convenient. It forces us to look at how we live. It asks us to innovate. It asks us to take responsibility. It asks us to think about our impacts. It asks us to do what humans resist the most: change. It asks us to stop using fossil fuels. It asks us look at our economic system and consider reform. It asks us to avoid the convenience of a massive supermarket and instead to grow our own food, and to shop at markets, or buy from local growers. It asks us to reconsider buying cheap clothing made by children in developing countries. It asks our governments to stop taking money from big corporations who fund coal and gas development and exploration.

The other day federal Labor resources spokesperson, Madeleine King, positioned climate activists as being just as naive and dangerous as climate deniers. Wow. I’d say knowing what we know, and after the humiliation of our PM rubbing himself naked in coal at the G7, we have some serious climate terrorists at the wheel and about to do a few burn outs.

The psychology of the flushing toilet is pervasive. But I know one thing for sure; coal is not the magic button they’d have you think and every time we pursue it, more turds float to the top.

It’s time we buried our shit. Or at least our shitheads.

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  1. This is essentially about the “tragedy of the commons” writ large. The basic idea is that we are so self-absorbed with our own selfish interests, we pursue our own obsessive wants. For most who enjoy at least a degree of affluence, our “wants” vastly exceed our “needs”, but we can’t and don’t want to see a bigger picture. Even if there is a sense there is a bigger picture, we are not going to give up our right to a privileged lifestyle. We are going to remain crazed consumers (competitive consumption and visible affluence are really powerful driving forces in our lives. A high majority want action on climate change sure – some surveys say this is at least 75% of people polled. And yet, if those same 75% went out tomorrow to buy a new car, the majority of those would buy a gas-guzzling SUV or dual cab. The 200 million of these vehicles on global roads produce more emissions than all but the largest 6 emitter countries – and to illustrate the trend, Mitsubishi no longer sells a new sedan in Australia – its entire range is SUV’s and dual cabs. But we refuse to see out behaviours as part of a bigger picture, so we rationalise that our individual actions make no difference – and just imagine our shrieking if governments started to tax these vehicles according to fuel economy, size or emissions. This is but one of our individual behaviours that, in aggregate, do phenomenal damage to the planet.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. It’s the dumbest system pooing into water and then spending huge amounts of energy to separate the two. But until people can accept emptying their composting toilet every week it’s difficult to change thay system, like you say it a jusy too easy. I’m hopeful that one day it will change though.

  3. Barry hydrocarbon free day’s are are not much fun .. caves are very cold this time
    Of year … !! But hey a change of mind
    Will keep you warm … Gas , electricity
    Uh …how good is Climate change..

  4. Mandy please read some Naomi Klein, Andreas Malm, Mark Fisher or any kind of meaningful critique of this neolib drivel. Framing individuals as being responsible for the deeply entrenched systemic processes associated with the capitalist mode of production is precisely why it’s impossible to halt or reverse global warming and ecological collapse. This narrative benefits those in power – indeed, it was created by them (e.g., look up who created and promoted the concept of the ‘carbon footprint’ to shift attention from fossil fuel companies and on to indviduals). The massive amounts of consumption seen in first world countries isn’t ‘human nature’, it’s an artifact of the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism didn’t become the ruling system because ‘humans’ chose it, and it wasn’t the inevitable result of ‘human nature’. There are other possible systems in which human civilization can sustain itself, but these are only possible through a collective challenge to power. And I don’t mean voting, living off-grid or scolding poverty wage workers for driving a 30 year old Falcon that barely runs, shopping at Woolworths and expecting their landlord to provide a working toilet

  5. I don’t think any of us would want to go back to living in towns without sewerage systems, with the accompanying stench and health and environmental problems. And treating sewage on-site is only possible for the very small numbers of us who have access to a back yard. Yes, using potable water to flush toilets isn’t great, but it’s the most practical solution available at the moment. Composting toilet in a high rise apartment anyone?

  6. It’s okay Mandy. Forget for a while ‘the quiet Australians’ who continue to cop Murdoch &
    our President’s ‘cookies’. Active Aussies & Co are still doing the heavy lifting & knowing &
    will not stop. That’s a promise being kept in spite of ruthless times.


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