rethinking energy

I’ve been thinking about honey. Honeybees ingest nectar and pollen, add their own metabolic processes, and extrude honey.

I remember reading someone who suggested we not think too hard about honey’s origins, because he compared honey directly to poop.

Thinking about that guy reminded me that apparently koala mothers feed actual poop to their babies. If I remember correctly, the food being predigested helps the babies make use of it. I wonder now if doing that also helps colonize the baby koala’s intestines with the right kinds of bacteria.

Consuming poop directly seems gross to us. But maybe that’s because human poop (and mammal poop generally) isn’t directly useful to us for anything. Our feces and urine generally require rather elaborate means of disposal: toilets, sewage systems, and wastewater treatment plants; or septic tanks and their fields. And yet we still have all sorts of problems when untreated sewage (say, from a large storm) flows directly into waterways that drinking water is drawn from. Runoff from farms and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations)  create similar issues, including fish kills, algal blooms, and the introduction of diseases to human populations.

What if we could transform mammal poop into energy?

  • That would give us incentives to keep mammal poop out of waterways. Like rain barrels or composting bins, maybe each household could have some sort of holding tank for poop from its inhabitants, both humans and (mammal) pets.
  • Wetlands worldwide would become a lot healthier if they didn’t have to filter the bodily wastes of 7 billion human beings, in addition to whatever organisms live in the wetlands.
  • Scientists and engineers could study mammal poop, and maybe the rest of us would learn to appreciate it more. Innovative new applications could be developed.


We would probably still have to rethink our conventional ideas about energy.

I read somewhere that (most, if not all) animals can be considered tubes: they take in food with a mouth, extract nutrients through digestion with (perhaps) a crop, stomach(s), and intestines, and expel what’s left over with a rectum/anus/cloaca.

Trees and other plants are not tubes. They don’t have mouths, they don’t have a digestive system like animals, and they don’t expel wastes like we animals do. Yet, the metabolic processes of plants produce sugars — energy — that feeds most of the planet, one way or another.

Why is it potentially gross if a honeybee extrudes honey from its rear end, but it’s not potentially gross that plants take in sunlight and create leaves, flowers, fruits, bark, etc., that we eat?

Human beings who believe in “human exceptionalism” [human beings are the “pinnacle of creation”; we’re more special than anybody else, etc.] often claim that human beings are conscious and self-aware, but nonhumans aren’t, so obviously human beings are better than nonhumans. I don’t agree with that assertion — that only human beings are conscious — but even if I did, nonhumans like honeybees, like plants, can do things with their bodies and minimal inputs from their physical environments, that we can’t even imagine doing. We need factories and laboratories and teams of scientists, engineers, technicians, workers, to accomplish  . . . a lot less. And our factories and laboratories produce biohazards and other toxic waste products that no other organism wants to, or can, eat. Stuff that, in some cases, will stay potently toxic for a million years. How do you look at all that, and still claim that human beings are better than everyone else?


Environmentalists and others say we human beings have to find (or rediscover) ways to fit into our environments, rather than trying to dominate them. One way of doing that could be to produce waste products that are useful to other organisms.

But I think we also have to radically rethink how much energy we consume. We wouldn’t have a worldwide energy crisis if collectively we used a lot less energy.

There’s always something other people should be doing, to be more responsible, more sustainable. If only those people were smarter, or more responsible, not so greedy.

Three years ago, I developed a bunch of health problems that my doctors haven’t been able to figure out. I’ve experimented with all sorts of lifestyle changes, some of which do make me feel better, to some degree. But, so far, nothing gives me back the levels of energy I took for granted, pre-2010.

Before 2010, I never thought about any of these issues. Because I didn’t need to. My body produced more than enough energy — without my conscious awareness of how that happened — so I just assumed that those processes would continue indefinitely. I squandered energy recklessly: I was greedy and wasteful. And then it ran out.

I have to do things differently now.

I can still do some things that I want to do. Which ones are important enough to deserve those outlays of energy?

  1. Is the thing itself an experience I haven’t had? [I want to experience as many things as possible.]
  2. If I have previously experienced this thing, did I enjoy it? Would I like to do it again?
  3. Can I learn new things that are desirable to me by doing this thing?
  4. Will doing this thing help me grow/evolve in directions that I’m currently drawn to?
  5. If there are social aspects, will the other people involved converse with me, and value my contributions? [Or will they talk at me, and ignore or dismiss or harangue me about whatever I say?]

When I use this new filtering system to examine many activities I unthinkingly did in the past, I quickly discover that most of the activities I did not only depleted my energy, but probably poisoned the source.

There were so many things I did that I had never enjoyed, but were things that other people insisted that I should enjoy. So I kept doing them, hoping . . . by magic? . . . they would improve for me. They didn’t.


These days, I’m learning to honor my unconscious processes. I’ve noticed the information they give me is much more robust, and of much better quality, than the sorts of things my conscious mind insists on.

I wasn’t much of a planner before, but I’ve pretty much stopped long-term planning all together. Things with me (can) change so quickly, that plans are just . . . more squandering of energy I can ill afford to lose.

I take each day as it comes, and make the best of whatever is possible within it. Some days, that’s a lot of resting. I spend a lot of time on our balcony, hanging out with plants. Watching birds, bees, wasps, spiders. I get a lot of good-quality thinking done, some days; other days, I’m just a sensing animal, at peace.

I continue to experience a steady stream of ideas for art projects. But now that I have to edit at many stages of the process, there are even fewer tangible results than before. Because I’m winnowing more ideas sooner, I find the ideas that persist to be more intriguing, more complex, more useful.

Reading uses a lot of brain energy (although comparatively little body energy), so I’ve been spending a lot of time reading. And because I’ve concentrated on finding books about my specific areas of interest, when I find a book on one of those topics, I’m probably a lot more well-informed about that topic than more-casual readers. So many books that start out very promising fall off the rails at some point. They are sharpening my critical thinking skills, and also, my appreciation of really-excellent substantive and developmental editing. I’m even more convinced than I was a year ago that I could make a real contribution as a substantive and developmental editor. I just need to figure out how to find a client or two.

When I really deeply want something to happen, it’s still possible for it to happen. If it does happen, I appreciate it 1001x more than I would have before. I can’t take anything for granted anymore. And that seems like a really good thing.


*Note: The earliest version of this post appeared on my other WP blog, 4.28.2013.