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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Eco-Friendly Earth Ships - I want one!

Hitching a Ride on an Earthship

Before most people were even turning off the faucet while they brushed their teeth, one man had a vision for an independent and sustainable alternative to our on-the-grid residential system. Earthships sound like they might just beam us beyond our current laws of reality, and they delightfully look like it too. Architect Mike Reynolds has been developing his Earthships for decades, traveling from their base in Taos, New Mexico to Haiti, China, and even the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

An Earthship derives its electricity from the sun and wind, its water from rain and snow, and its temperature regulation from the earth. An internal sewage treatment system means each drop of water is used four times, feeding lush wetlands of flowers and vegetables. The walls are literally made of trash: tires filled with dirt, glorious stained glass windows of old beer bottles. It doesn't get much more radically self-sustainable than this, folks.
Jonah Reynolds, Mike's son, who's been building Earthships since the age of 12, came to speak at the Etsy Labs last week, and I was fortunate enough to sit down with him beforehand and ask a few questions. Jonah kicked things off by lamenting the fact that humans are the only species who can't build their own homes. Earthships have a variety of clients, from disaster relief to luxury leisure, and consequently the personal involvement naturally varies. But sitting through Jonah's presentation, I took note of photo after photo  showing homeowners elbow-deep in sediment on Earthship construction sites. The Earthship approach is a climatic endeavor, yes, but ultimately a societal one as well. Jonah was excited to talk about the school they've been developing to pass these skills along to tradesmen everywhere, not to mention the number of postcards they receive from people who have read their books and built their own Earthships independently. Jonah points out that it's going to take a lot more than one architectural firm to change global construction and residential lifestyles.
While I love the idea of knocking down my Brooklyn apartment building and erecting a bulbous adobe indoor jungle, Earthships can at times seem an unrealistic aspiration, particularly for those living in dense, urban environments, and Jonah recognizes this. I was thus happy to hear that they also do a fair amount of retrofitting, gutting traditional buildings and instituting new systems. I try to imagine my local zoning board approving a utility-bill-free entity, but Jonah says they have never been denied a permit. Despite my initial assumptions involving veganism and Birkenstocks, Jonah insists, "We're not environmentalists, it's just the right thing to do, it's logic." I can see how this sort of argument (and the statistics to support it) would appeal to pragmatic electricians and contractors of many ilk.

In a world where there exists more tires than trees, it might be time for the general public to jump on this bandwagon. Jonah is not telling you to sacrifice your comfort or your amenities. He is merely offering a responsible way to justify them. When there are children all over the world dying of dehydration, why are we still flushing our excrement away in potable water? When I ask how living in an Earthship is different than a traditional home, Jonah tells me that it "puts you in the rhythms of the planet," and I gaze up at the roaring air conditioner vent above us with weary eyes.
Are you convinced by Jonah's logic?

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