Chelsea Wald: Pipe Dreams—The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

Pipe Dreams

Pipe Dreams

PIPE DREAMS:
THE URGENT GLOBAL QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE TOILET

Chelsea Wald
Avid Reader Press/April 6, 2021/$27.00
ISBN-10: 1982116218; ISBN-13: 9781982116217
Ebook: 9781982116231

Wald reports:

In 2013, I got two assignments that at first glance seemed completely unrelated. The first was an exploration of some nascent solutions for the billions of people worldwide without safe sanitation. The second was about the untapped potential of heat in our cities—some of which, it turned out, is in the sewers.

Intrigued by these developments, I decided to make toilet infrastructure a part of my freelance beat. To get up to speed, I took several online courses from EdX and Coursera to better understand its health, technological, and environmental facets.

Chelsea Wald. Photo by Cathleen Owen.

Chelsea Wald. Photo by Cathleen Owen.

I learned that the conventional infrastructure of sewers and centralized wastewater treatment plants wasn’t well positioned to deal with twenty-first-century challenges such as rapid urbanization, climate change, dwindling natural resources, inequality, and growing risks of disease outbreaks. The problem was drawing in innovators from a wide range of disciplines. To me, that started to sound like a pretty cool book.

In 2018, a pregnancy imbued me with just the right combination of time pressure and audacious creativity to finish a proposal. I was shocked by how quickly I found an agent and then how quickly she found a publisher. I was thrilled but, with an infant in my arms, I had been counting on the process taking a little longer.

Over the next year, I traveled (sometimes with baby, partner, and even my parents) to Indonesia, Haiti, and South Africa to gather material. I also attended conferences, visited project sites, read reams of academic papers and books, interviewed experts, and somehow found time to write.

As with any story, one key to this project was putting in a lot of (unpaid) labor in the proposal writing stage to find an angle and structure. Importantly, I saw that experts and journalists had an almost universal tendency to treat the sanitation problems of higher-income and lower-income contexts as separate topics. I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I knew that Pipe Dreams could offer the meaningful perspective that the challenges of —and thus possible solutions for—sanitation are universal.

After all, everyone poops.

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Mar. 31, 2021

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The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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