An earthship is a building that not only provides shelter, but produces heating, electricity and drinking water, cleans waste water and provides food as well!
The brainchild of architect and innovator, Michael Reynolds, these buildings have been appearing for more than three decades, many from recycled material. While others see “waste”, Michael sees raw materials for sustainable living – structures that might someday shelter large numbers of people. Earthships are now in all fifty US states and around the world. Mike says that these Earthships are not only homes but symbolic ships that sail on the seas of tomorrow.
Mike has built earthships in disaster areas where water has been scarce, teaching local engineers the skills to build their own.
ONE APPROACH TO CLEAN-TECH: TAKE EXISTING TECHNOLOGY AND ADD LAYERS OF CONTROL AND CLEANING Volvo engineer Anders Höglund managed to make a diesel engine burn clean by adding sophisticated control technology, thanks to advanced sensors and electronics. To make it even cleaner he added a catalyst converter to the exhaust. The story of the clean diesel engine is a story of one approach to clean-tech: Take outdated, inefficient, polluting technology and with the application of advanced computer control and some addition of cleaning technologies produce services with less emissions more efficiently. This is Control Engineering: the engineering discipline that focuses on the modelling of a diverse range of dynamic systems (e.g. mechanical systems) and the design of controllers that will cause these systems to behave in the desired manner.
But Höglund wanted to take his ideas into another dimension: to go into the economy and take something as outdated as fee systems for pollutants. The system is still inefficient and, frankly, still dirty. His idea was to add a control layer – to make the fee flexible, and determine the fee based on the behaviour of the system. In this case the system is not a truck drive train, but a supply chain for energy. And it is not the combustion processes that work more efficiently, but the market.
The idea is simple: if pollutants are being phased out at a pace determined by national government, the fee remains low. if the pollutant is still being used above the reduction rate called for by government plans, the rate is raised. At this point the complexities of the market – the price of alternatives, the price of pollution capture, the Price of buying pollutants in the futures market, all the complexities play in.
In this way, the government, which actually in many cases has no mandate to allow pollution, gets back in control of phasing out the pollutant, using the most powerful known mechanism of change : the market.
I have been following the debate from the climate denier side for a few weeks, mostly in fascination of how you can, in contrast to being a sceptic, go ahead and categorically deny the possibility that emissions into the atmosphere could create a climate system collapse. So I figured that to be a denier you must have some pretty solid science behind you. That’s fascinating. In a spooky way, as I personally am seriously worried that we have not passed a tipping point already.
Anyway, having learned to be sceptical about being sceptical, I was keeping an open mind about where my investigations could lead me. And I got more than I bargained for. That’s why we need to talk.
What follows is what I would like to say to you – if you are a denier – and if you are not, I’d like you to be in on the conversation. This is serious stuff, hard to express, and to get to the heart of the matter I might have to ramble around it. So bear with me.
To get to a stage where you deny anthropogenic climate system impacts you have to first reject the position of an established group of scientists. In fact this is nothing unusual, established groups have been wrong before. You also get into an explanation as to why so many rational men and women could get it THAT WRONG. And at the same time, explain how a number of equally rational men and women could stand up to conventional wisdom.
One explanation offered by deniers is one of money and security – follow the accepted line and you keep your job, one of the most powerful motivators around.
So let me paraphrase the way I understand deniers think – and this is one of the reasons why we need a long serious talk – I need to know if I am right.
The theory (that climate change is being accelerated by man), is being supported by a cadre of scientists who are, consciously or unconsciously, following this line because it suits their own interests and the interests of trade and industry owners who pay them. They put their own needs above the needs of the general public. This is in contrast to the few who have the moral courage to stand for their opposite position. The position – of anthropogenic global warming – is detrimental to societal development as, if followed, will result in fuel restrictions that harm economic growth.
The thing that gets me about this is that if we accept the denier’s position, then it could well be true for other areas. Why stop at climate change? I have to admit that I myself and suspicious of what we could call established economic truths. Suppose I substituted my ideas about economy in the paragraph above?
The theory (that economic growth driven by free markets will create better standards for all), is being supported by a cadre of economists who are, consciously or unconsciously, following this line because it suits their own interests and the interests of trade and industry owners who pay them. They put their own needs above the needs of the general public. This is in contrast to the few who have the moral courage to stand for their opposite position. This position of infinite economic growth is detrimental to societal development and, if followed, will result in continued ecological destruction and environmental degradation and ultimately create a humanitarian catastrophe.
So where does the discussion lead? The climate deniers I have read want us to continue to release CO2 into the atmosphere. They do, however, recognize that there is a global fuels shortage ahead, and many of them argue for nuclear power. In this case they agree with a large body of established scientists that nuclear power is safe. And they seem to agree with the established view that economic growth should prevail.
For me it doesn’t add up. How can you so categorically believe that a group is acting against your interests in one case but so altruistically for you in another?
Which brings me to why we need to talk. Look. We are all in the same boat, a planet under pressure, an economy in serious debt and no sensible way forward. A system which is slow to change, being held back by the fear of the very people who have been trained and educated and employed with public money to serve us. It is a crisis of faith in each other. We are never going to get anywhere if we let this continue.
Arguing about the science is a waste of time at this stage, as we are discussing the same outcome – restrictions on fossil fuel – which anyway are the same restrictions Peak Oil protagonists, civil liberties and alternate economists are talking of. It is small change in comparison to the crisis of faith in leaders and civil servants we are facing. This crisis is dangerous, as people could be opened even more to manipulation, looking for strong leadership and guidance.
So we need to talk, and we need to find a way forward together to a society with more people, more peace more prosperity and more equality but with less fossil fuel. Or?
As populations grow, and less and less oil is being found, the fossil fuel-dependent global supply chains and the banking system that supports them are becoming less functional. Relocalizing production and sales of daily needs reduces fuel dependence, waste, and increases local employment and community resilience. However, today’s financial system is more geared to large national and global corporations.
The lack of sustainability in the system is worrying. A sustainable solution would mean that sale and provision of basic goods and services would keep ecosystem and mineral resources intact, would reduce reliance on fossil fuel and create an investment that could be enjoyed by coming generations.
New thinking is required to make capital available to smaller, local businesses for this to be realized. One proposal is a savings bank scheme called Units of Trust (UOT). The scheme makes it possible for consumers to invest in local businesses and to receive goods and services at reduced price whilst their money is with the firm.
To create simplicity, transparency and stability, a support and coordination organization called UOTMC or UOT marketing company, could be set up, along with a fund scheme in a local bank. Unitization allows consumers to invest in a wide range of companies and spread their risk.
Other benefits include: providing local business with affordable capital and long term customers at the same time. Consumers get local produce and a long term secure supply of basic needs whilst investing in a green supply system that will withstand fossil energy shortfalls.
I saw an exhibition of Leonardo daVinci’s notebooks. His sketches looked very much like he was imagestreaming. They seem to just come from nowhere. A program on TV shows how they tried to take his drawings and build full scale models. One comment was that he often got things “the wrong way round” or “purposely put mistakes in” to confound people who would steal his secrets. For me, I believe they were more like “right brain copying errors”. When I review the process for Unit of Trust, I see that I haven’t quite got the whole thing right. Parts of it do not “hang together”.
This is not to say that the insights are not deep:, they are. I met a standard methodology, based on what can be done today, using pre-committed resources, maximizing effect through cooperation – the whole thing seems to be extremely powerful. And definitely a good tool for communities who have decided to go down the energy reduction/sustainable development path.
What you need to do is to work hard on verification, and recreate every detail, then test it and try again. Just like they are doing with daVinci’s models.
Acting in gratitude, appreciation and using all our gifts - intelligence, innovation, hope and determination - I believe we can create settlements for ourselves that are truly very beautiful places - reflecting the Very Beautiful Place inside.