We learn by telling stories; we remember by telling stories; for most of human history, stories have been passed down from mouth to ear through the generations long before they were ever written down. Homer, the blind poet of Ionia (now part of Turkey) recited his poems from memory, and his students memorised them and taught them to their students. And yet his works are considered among the greatest literature of all time: The Iliad and the Odyssey. Likewise that great work of Old English, Beowulf.
My Dad told me a story long ago in my youth which has stuck with me, as stories do. It turns out to be apocryphal, but is nonetheless a great story about value. Here it is: in the early days of the Coca Cola Company, when coke was sold for a nickel a glass as a hangover cure in drug store soda fountains, and actually contained coca leaves, the company president hired a smart soap marketer to see how the market for Coca Cola could be expanded. He studied the company’s operations and sales, surveyed its consumers, and in due time produced a report which he presented to the company president. The report was on one page and consisted of two words: “Bottle It”. And then he presented his bill for $1 million, which the outraged president refused to pay and for which the consultant had to sue, and won. Why? Because this advice allowed Coca Cola to become the global business it is today, and made the fortunes of thousands of franchisees, shareholders, and employees.
The lesson, of course, is that the value of something is not necessarily in volume, or packaging - a good idea can be presented simply and still have immense power. And value.
So I have a simple idea to present to the City of Bellingham - and it’s free and gratis, and it has to do with sewage sludge. Here it is: Landfill It. Very little in capital costs are necessary; it is carbon negative; and it is certainly better than what we are doing now, which is incinerating the stuff, spewing all the carbon into the atmosphere and using fossil fuels to do so - a double whammy which is literally an insult to our environment.
The City, however. has another idea (thanks due to Bill McCallum for the info)- they have contracted with the same consulting engineers responsible for the massive upgrades to the Post Point sewage plant that have tripled our water bills over the past ten years. They signed a contract with Brown and Caldwell in October to come up with a plan to handle biosolids aka sewage sludge. The total contract cost: $$880,956. And this is just to come up with alternatives and make recommendations! I’ll bet they come up with a preferred option that costs over $35 million - just guessing, but sometimes a gravy train smells like shit but is a pretty nice ride nonetheless.
In any event, when future cockroach archaeologists study the inevitable ruins of our civilization, they may wonder why most of the vast efforts of our society were made to produce garbage - packaging, waste, deliberately obsolesced items, etc. - which was then carefully preserved in landfills. Maybe they will figure out where we went wrong, because our brightest minds seem to be engaged in the business of parting people from their money by tricking them. For such is the casino of modern capitalism, where even the President is a carney, and the government’s role in delivering universal health care is to act as an insurance broker for private companies.
So as a reminder, a memento mori in the midst of abundance, here is an article about Trellech in Wales, which in the 13th century was the largest city in the country. Now? A field. Destroyed by wars and raids, depopulated by the Black Death, and never rebuilt. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Life goes on with or without us.