Introduction of the Flush Toilet Deplored at Earth Summit

Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:12pm EDT
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Johannesburg ( - In what some see as a sign that the Earth summit is literally going down the drain, an environmentalist at the Earth summit here has lamented the introduction of the flush toilet.

One of the panelists taking part in a television special on the Earth summit complained about the "pernicious introduction of the flush toilet," according to Competitive Entreprise Institute President Fred Smith, who also was a panelist on the program.

The TV special, hosted by hosted PBS's Bill Moyers, was taped on Tuesday and is set to air Friday night.

A female panelist from India complained that the flush toilet encourages excessive water consumption around the world and is not ecologically friendly.

The remark prompted an associate of Smith, CEI's Chris Horner, to ponder what alternative the woman would suggest. "Presumably the preferred solution to human waste problems is now abstinence," Horner quipped.

It was unclear whether the remark will make the final edit of the PBS program "NOW with Bill Moyers." NOW and the BBC are presenting "The Earth Debate," a special 90-minute program taped at the United Nation's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

Horner said the program panel was stacked against those who questioned the green movement.

"This was pre-taped and is being edited by folks with a clear...perspective. So much of the 'debate' that did occur with the few skeptics on the panel is likely to be not fully represented," Horner said.

Horner said suggestions such as doing away with flush toilets "certainly are consistent with the massively increased privation that the Greens' agenda would ensure."

Lamenting Electricity

Earlier this week, Gar Smith, the editor of the Earth Island Institute's online journal "The Edge," lamented the introduction of electricity. (See story)

"I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing. It is the fuel that powers a lot of multi-national imagery," Smith told

According to Smith, electricity can wreak havoc on cultures. "I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity," he said.

Changing How We Flush Toilets

A critic of the green movement, Danish author Bjorn Lomborg, told, "Changing how we flush toilets is not going to change water supplies."

Lomborg also served as a panelist for the PBS television special and he said he, too, heard the Indian panelist condemn flush toilets during the show's taping.

According to Lomborg, household water consumption worldwide constitutes only 8 percent of total usage, so changing the way we flush will not have any significant impact on water usage, he said. Agriculture accounts for 69 percent of water usage, while industry uses 23 percent, Lomborg said.

''You don't start with making the 8 percent (household water consumption) more efficient,'' he said.

Lomborg, once a committed member of Greenpeace, became disillusioned with the green movement because of what he considered its distortion of eco-science. He said people who bemoan the flush toilet are typical of the Green movement's "tendency to focus on stuff that looks easy."

Lomborg joked that maybe the panelist thought "we should use the Asian toilet method where you use your hand and a little water."

According to a website sponsored by Asia Travel Mart, bathrooms in parts of Asia do not use modern flush mechanisms. According to the website, "A bucket and ladle serve an integral role in both bathing and toiletry." "Toilet paper is not available in most homes," the website also noted.


Controversy overflows as to just who invented the original flush toilet.

According to the ''toiletology'' website, some credit Thomas Crapper, while others say Alexander Cumming patented a flushing device in 1775. Still others go back to 16th century and give credit to a Sir John Harrington.

This is not the first time that flush toilets have generated controversy. The U.S. government federally mandated the use of low-flow, 1.6-galloon toilets in 1995 as part of the National Energy Policy Act. The new, water-conserving low-flow toilets replaced 3.5-gallon models.

The low-flow toilets were championed by former Vice President Al Gore and other environmentalists, but many consumers disliked them, complaining they required a second flush.

Press reports note the older, high-flush-capacity toilets are now sold on the black-market, sometimes smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico and Canada.

'Inject Guilt'

Patrick Moore, head of the environmental advocacy group Greenspirit and a former founding member of Greenpeace who left after becoming disillusioned with the Green movement, believes those who would do away with electricity and flush toilets hold a "naive vision of returning to some kind of Garden of Eden, which was actually not that great because the average life span was 35."

Said Moore, "The environmentalists try to inject guilt into people for consuming, as if consuming by itself causes destruction to the environment. There is no truth to that. You have the wealthiest countries on earth with the best-looked-after environment."

See Related Stories:
Greens Call US 'Biggest Block' to Progress at Earth Summit
Green Group Includes US In 'Axis of Environmental Evil'
Environmentalist Laments Introduction of Electricity (26 Aug. 2002)
Environmentalists Link West Nile Virus to Global Warming (19 Aug. 2002)

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