Where the Streets are Paved with Goldenrod

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

No one, you would think, aspires to be a night-soil man. Yet in the late 1950s, Shi Chuangxiang’s labours in the latrines of Beijing briefly won him national praise. He was proclaimed a socialist hero and met the head of state. Back then, human excreta mattered, so much so that gangs fought for the plummest spots. Why? Because cities, until relatively recently in human history, were a part of healthy ecosystems that operated according to the principles of nutrient exchange: take, use, return, all in neat equilibrium. The spoils of Mr Shi (who was nicknamed ‘Stinky Shit Egg’), collected at a time when synthetic plant food was not widely available in China, became the organic fertiliser that was intended to power the country’s Great Leap Forward in agriculture. As Urban Jungle makes abundantly clear, this cycle of reciprocity has now been ruptured everywhere. City and countryside have become estranged; moreover, nature has

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The good news is that we’re all doomed. Humankind has made such a hash of the stewardship of creation that God looks like a chump for entrusting it to us. Most of the biosphere would be better off without us. If we don’t self-immolate or exhaust our resources, Peter Frankopan warns us, the planet will take its own revenge in some seismic rupture; or outer space, which we have strewn with the detritus of satellites and probes, may in return bombard

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