Why is poop less valuable than an apple pie? — I ask therefore I am S2#8
With I ask therefore I am we research the philosophies that flow through all aspects of our reality.
We use these insights to find solutions for personal life questions and societal Dilemma’s.
My name is Zjef Van Acker and we’re making this world a little bit better, one question at a time.
The value of poop
Why is poop less valuable than an apple pie? It sounds like a no-brainer….but….
What if I told you that valuing poop as much as an apple pie is of key importance for the survival of our civilisation?
Yes! Our culture, and therefore our societal structures have been too human-centric for too long. This has caused us to lose sight of the bigger picture, leading us into the state that we are in now: a society that is structurally undermining itself by destroying the ecosystems on which its very survival depends.
And, yes, the solution to the end of days is as simple as: make poop as valuable as an apple pie!
Not convinced yet?
Well, okay, I get that. Then just join me through my train of thought, from poop to solution and back.
The issue with invaluable poop
The circular economy is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long time and many organisations and businesses are working hard to implement it. New technologies are being devised, and innovative business models are being invented to make it happen. From black soldier flies that convert every last bit of organic waste into valuable organic molecules, to companies that are keeping responsibility over their resources by renting out washing machines instead of selling them.
Circular economy businesses are ready to take over the world and make our society a happy place! Yet, their success is held back by our economy that doesn’t value poop.
Let’s follow the 5 phases of an apple’s circle of life to understand why that is a problem (btw — as it is a circle, phase 5 flows over into phase 1, remember that).
In Phase 1, a farmer grows a shiny happy apple. It takes a whole lot of resources (like fertiliser), a whole lot of love, and a whole lot of work to produce this fabulous fruit called an apple.
In Phase 2, a baker buys the apple from the farmer, uses some other resources and processes it into an apple pie.
In Phase 3, a happy consumer recognizes the value of this apple pie, and joyfully eats this delicious pastry. Thereby turning all the resources, love and work into energy for the body… .and also poop!
In phase 4 the value of the apple has dropped to below zero…. and that is a problem because the circle of the circular economy becomes unequal!
For obvious hygienic and fragrancy reasons we humans have learned to get rid of our poop, and anno 2021 we will even put in a lot of effort and money to remove it. Yet, it’s not because we don’t like the smell, that the poop is invaluable.
In Phase 5 the cheap poop is turned into energy, compost and/or fertiliser. Which then can be sold to the farmer to grow some apples again.
Unfortunately…phase 5 almost never happens because the farmer generally likes to buy fertiliser from the competition: fossil resources.
Which is the main reason we tend not to value our poop in the first place. We’ve been spoiled by our mother earth!
Last weekend I was having a leisurely stroll through my beautiful city of Ghent to discover a peculiar sight: Four enthusiastic men were throwing magnets and hooks on a rope into one of the channels. They were fishing for metal. As I came closer I noticed the insane amount of old bikes and motorcycles that they had already fished out of such a small area of water. I was perplexed!
These guys were doing this for fun and made a tiny little bit of money by selling the metal at the scrapyard. But if you think about it: Why are they only making a little bit of money? Shouldn’t this be like a treasure hunt? And why did drunk students throw that huge amount of valuable metals in the channel in the first place?
I’ll tell you why:
The value of a product’s resources drops to almost zero the moment it’s no longer useful to us, because mother earth is too nice to all her children. Mother earth gives all her resources away for free, while we — the human children — charge money for it.
Therefore in our economy it is generally still cheaper to extract fossil resources to make new products than it is to reuse or recycle resources to make that same product.
That is why poop is less valuable than apple pie. And that is why we’re not all searching for bikes on the bottom of the channel.
Children invent games, and as children we have also invented this economy that is hurting our mother (and ourselves). But that also means that we can change it. We are old enough now to come up with a game that is fun, that is good for us, and that is good for mother earth.
We, as a global society, need to re-invent an economy where we all have a shared responsibility over the earth’s resources, and value them on their true costs by also taking into account the time and effort it takes for mother earth to renew those resources.
For example: It takes around 60 million years to renew fossil oil. And taking those 60 million years into account makes gasoline or a simple plastic bag EXTREMELY expensive. Would you carelessly drive your gasoline-car or get a plastic bag in the supermarket if it costs you 60milion times more? I guess we all know the answer to that question.
Let’s go circular
So, anno 2021, the value of certain resources like poop and bikes drops to around zero and we need to find a way to raise their value again. One of the things standing in the way of that is the fact that mother earth gives us free resources that are extremely slow to renew.
I hear you thinking: Isn’t the solution then not as simple as taxing the fossil resources until our poop becomes super-valuable?
Hmmm — It is tempting to make this simple conclusion, yet I am not completely convinced because it is hard to predict what will happen after we do that.
In a linear economy value is added to resources until the final product, and then it drops so the products at the beginning of the line can go through that same evolution. In a circular economy, I’m not sure how that would work. For example: If fertiliser becomes much more expensive, then the apple and the apple pie become more expensive too…and then also your poop. And then the fertiliser again becomes more expensive, and thus the apple….and so on. We would just get into a spiral of ever increasing prices.
Moreover, the circular economy is never a real circle, it’s more like a big chaotic system with many loops coming and going everywhere.
So honestly, this time I don’t know the answer. Yet, I do know how to get to a solution!
How to get to a solution
First, we need a cultural shift: we need to collectively want to be a circular or ecosystem economy where poop becomes a valuable resource!
Then, with that different way of looking at the world, we need every able body and mind to think and experiment with this.
We need academics and intellectuals to create theoretical models around this. We need business and social entrepreneurs to start experimenting with this. We need engineers to look for innovative solutions to overcome the gap from waste to resource. We need consumers to be on board, and we also need politicians to incentivise this all.
And probably the hardest one of all: We will need to slowly build this up to a global level!
Make poop valuable again!
So, in order to stop our civilisation’s self-sabotaging behaviour by becoming a global society in harmony with this planet’s ecosystems, we need to change our perspective on used materials and resources. We need to honour all of them in their respective places in the circle of life. And then we definitely need to stop mother nature from giving us everything she has for free.
In order to make that happen we still need a lot of research, experiments and trust. The road will be hard and long, and there will be many challenges. Yet I have a dream…
I have a dream that one day poop will be as valuable as an apple pie!
Author: Zjef Van Acker
Editor: Els De Graef
ps0: You want to be part of the solution? Listen to some podcast conversation with people that are already part of the solution:
#101 — Simon Ghiotto about Belgian politics (Dutch)
#102 — Radu M. Giurgiu about high tech ecosystem farming (EN)
#103 — Ayşegül Sırakaya about international law around restoration and use of natural resources (EN)
#106 — Grace Crain about Space farming (EN)
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