Mr. Pastirik's Daily Log 17 November 2005November 17, 2005; McMurdo Station
I attended a mandatory waste management lecture this morning. As with mandatory things, I go in with a bit of reluctance. However, the lecture was informative and believe or not interesting!
McMurdo handles all the waste not only for McMurdo, but for South Pole, and many outlying field camps. These places average a total of 2000 people during summer time (now), and generate tons of waste. Before the conservation acts and various mandates, no one cared what happened to the waste. There was even a nuclear reactor here for power (now gone). Presently, near all power comes from fossil fuels (diesel and gasoline), but some comes from solar, etc. Waste heat is not vented to the environment directly if at all possible, but is used to heat buildings, and hot water. All of this fuel must be imported via ship.
People here, like people everywhere eat, work, play, etc. and generate waste. As reported in the meeting, 100% of solid waste is collected, and 60% is recycled. Compared to a typical American city this is an astounding amount. All over the station, one encounters various recycling bins, signs to remind everyone, and places where waste is stored. It is not pretty, but garbage and litter is not either. The separation of solid waste extends way beyond paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, compost, etc. Metals are separated by type, waste water is not just waste water. Did it come from showers, kitchen, lab, etc.? A few drops of oil spill or antifreeze are a big deal. Even the Skuas (large gull-like birds) seem to get into the act. One buzzed me on the way to breakfast apparently thinking my leather glove would be a tasty treat!
People here recycle seemingly quite willingly. There are rules and penalties for not doing it, but they do not seem to be the driving force behind the effort. Rules only seem to carry people so far, rather it seems to be traditions we generate as a society that seem to carry the day. People break rules, but follow traditions.
The people here are an interesting lot. They seem to love edgy environments. It is after all, the bottom of the world. Some come for research, others for adventure, others to make relatively good money, and still others to escape. One can encounter tai chi and yoga practitioners discussing the relative merits of dumpster diving and find out they are Ph.D s in an amazingly difficult field of study. Throw in purple hair, and it is very interesting.
I suppose that living in a place like Antarctica, one doesnít take things for granted. On the ice (term for Antarctica), everything has to be planned for carefully. Nothing just happens. Imagine having to think about each breath you take. It is a marvel of life that a simple change in the pH (acidity) triggers a response in the neurons that causes an exhalation and a subsequent inhalation. It just happens, and people that canít do it are tied to ventilators or die. It is like that here. Food, heat, work, play, waste, medical care etc. have to be thought out, and planned often years in advance. The amazing thing is not the number of logistical problems encountered, but the ability of humans to handle them!
The pace of the experiment is increasing. Worries abound as the test flight is being prepared. Not all is going smoothly, and the scientists are endeavoring to solve problems as locally as possible. They are very capable group. The brainstorming going on, and the blunt truthfulness of the exchanges is enervating. The mission is the test of their efforts, and the focus is to accomplish it. I am sure it will not go as exactly planned, but I believe it will happen pretty close to hope!
Today is bit windier and colder than yesterday, but not too bad really. I am going to explore parts of town, and if it clears a bit hike up the hill for a view. Then, I will return to the office to share what I learned. I am hoping to start to fill the webpage today and send pictures, and share more with you.
Take care of one another. mp