I learned a lot of important things during my four month course at the Earthship Academy in New Mexico. The most important thing I learned came directly from Earthship inventor Michael Reynolds himself: the importance of building a safe future for the next generation. As “powerful” and “advanced” as today’s society is, it still remains very fragile and not very resilient. Indeed, its foundations are neither strong, nor sustainable.
All of our technologies and infrastructures depend on low fossil fuel prices, economic growth, and computing. Incidents, as minor as they may be, could make us regress significantly in just a few weeks. Due to the poor choices we have made in regard to the production of food, the use of our water, and the quality of our housing; there are many possible events that could have very serious consequences for our society. Economic crisis, war, computer network collapse, disease in mono-cultural food crops, a prolonged electricity outage, natural disaster, and a problem in the oil supply are only a few of the events that could potentially harm our fragile society. We are accustomed to ordering an exotic dish on the cell phone and having it delivered in minutes today, but tomorrow we might fear for our safety with no food supply available. Even though I do not think we should act out of fear, I do believe we should act responsibly and intelligently to prepare ourselves for known possibilities.
Food, Water, and Shelter for Everyone
Gardening, permaculture, aquaponics, and many other movements are proposing great alternatives that can allow families and entire communities to become more resilient and more responsible for their own basic needs regarding food. But what about the heat for our homes and greenhouses during the cold months of the year? I love the idea of relaxing in front of a great wood fire in the middle of winter because the fuel it is natural, renewable, and easy to find in the northern countries; and it just feels amazing! But, do we really want to go back to cutting down all of our forests to heat our living and growing spaces? Of course not.
I believe a safe future can only be achieved with the development of radically sustainable buildings that are simple to build and that heat and cool themselves through their interaction with Earth’s natural phenomena. Effectively, quality food, water, and shelter for everyone is possible by using simple technologies to take advantage of the renewable, sustainable, and infinite resources around us like sunshine, earth, rain, wind, and their synergies. No matter what happens.
As I recently detailed in the article, “The Top 5 Technologies for Creating Self-Sufficient Buildings,” I believe there are some specific ways that we can begin to build structures that interact with and benefit from natural phenomena, rather than attempting to work against them.
Passive solar energy is the solar energy that hits your home in the form of sunshine. Passive just means that no energy is expended in obtaining the resource. By designing a structure that capitalizes on ambient sunlight, you can create a much warmer microclimate that regulates its own temperatures in winter and in summer. The trick to passive solar is mostly in the design of the roof. Thermal mass is another design technique that makes a great compliment to passive solar energy. Thermal mass design uses materials that are able to retain warmth, and that retained warmth can keep the structure warm even on days when the sun doesn’t shine and there is no passive solar energy available.
Passive geothermal design takes advantage of the fact that the ground maintains a fairly constant temperature, even while the air temperature above it fluctuates greatly. Passive geothermal design often uses large amounts of earth, mounded on the outside of the structure on the north, east, and west sides. This technique protects the structure from cold ambient air, and allows the inside of the structure to stabilize with the warmer temperature of the ground. Passive ventilation is a design technique that involves strategic placement of windows, traps, and vents to create a structure that naturally circulates its own air. Hot air escapes from the top of the structure, and cool air flows easily throughout. Compost heating is another technique that we can use to achieve a self-sufficient building. You use a large and active compost pile to heat water tubing, and then transfer that heated water to the area where you want it.
These are a few of the ideas that permaculture is presenting as a solution to the problem of self-sufficient buildings. Along with an adequate food production plan, and adequate water, these strategies can allow us to build a society that is adaptable to change and resilient to emergencies.
How We Can Build a Sustainable Future
My colleagues at Anaconda Productions and I have undertaken a project with a large vision: the harmonious combination of several emerging technologies such as permaculture, passive solar energy, living buildings, cold frames, Earthships, biointensive agriculture, and others. We believe these technologies have the potential to change the world to reflect humanity’s true potential.
Imagine a pure and beautiful planet, a planet on which humans have chosen to live proudly, in harmony with nature. Imagine an Earth where everyone acts according to what he or she thinks is truly ideal, and everyone accomplishes something good and noble in life. Imagine that human ingenuity collaborates with and interacts with natural forces to create extra-ordinary new technologies. Take a moment to think about what the world could become.
Imagine the northern part of every old monoculture GMO field being converted into a lush forest that offers loads of nourishing fruits, nuts, herbs, and medicinal mushrooms. Imagine the center of these fields each being covered by magnificent passive solar greenhouses, which have been sculpted and engineered by artists and alchemists who have transformed waste into technological masterpieces. A microclimate prevails inside these greenhouses, where master gardeners grow quality crops: fruits and vegetables with a taste that surpasses all of your expectations.
Rainwater is collected from the roofs of the greenhouses and is used several times before entering the soil. Each time the water is used it is filtered and purified before it is released into gigantic underground aquifers. Spring water is abundant and is protected and respected by all of the land’s inhabitants. Beautiful stone temples are built around each spring to offer a memorable experience to those who come to quench their thirst.
The permaculture and biointensive gardens that surround the greenhouses produce an abundance of organic seasonal crops. Houses, all made from recuperated and natural materials interact with natural phenomena to generate water, food and warmth. The houses’ design is meant to blend in to the landscape, as if they were a part of it, to honor the beauty and bounty of nature. Inhabitants rejuvenate themselves by walking through old growth forests; sacred places where thousand-year-old trees represent splendor and wisdom for current and future generations.
We sincerely believe that when a sufficiently high number of humans share a common objective with justifiable reasons to realize it, anything is possible! The Greenhouse of the Future DVD is our humble first contribution to this vision. We hope to keep working with all of you to make this vision become a reality.
This post was written by Francis Gendron