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Published in the January/February 2014 issue of North Simcoe Community News

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Source: Michael Reynolds, Earthship Biotecture

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This off-grid home near Orangeville is earth-sheltered, heated by passive solar and a fired masonry stove. Without heating, the temperature in this house never falls below 10°C (50°F) and is often above 18°C (64°F). Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

At the time I was writing this piece, I was conducting my annual introspection. I don’t pick a New Year’s resolution so much as a New Year’s theme. This year, I was inspired by a John Lennon quote about the two basic motivating forces of fear and love. “When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance . . . Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

I was instantly drawn to the wisdom of this quote. I dream of a better world, but by sharing dire messages, have I just spread fear and encouraged others to pull back from life? Maybe open-hearted messages of hope, celebration and wonder would be a better choice.

And there is no shortage of brilliant Earth-friendly creations to talk about. I can think of no better place to start than to tell you about the work of a couple of Earth-inspired architects.

Malcolm Wells (1926-2009) is regarded as the father of modern earth-sheltered architecture. The first 11 years of his career were spent earning money and acclaim building schools, churches, factories and offices “on mature woodlands and fields of wildflowers.” But, he writes, “Then I woke up: I wasn’t a creator. I was a destroyer! My buildings, with their parking lots, walks, plazas, and toxic green lawns had wiped out everything that was alive there.” So, he became an “underground” architect to create homes and offices that provided comfortable, energy efficient living spaces for people, but also for plants and wildlife.

Mike Reynolds, the “Earthship” architect, designs homes for total self-sufficiency and maximum use of local materials. Refuse such as aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles and tires are used in construction. In the documentary, Garbage Warrior, he describes one of his rammed-earth tire dwellings: “There’s nothing coming into this house, no power lines, no gas lines, no sewage lines coming out, no water lines coming in, no energy being used … We’re sitting on 6,000 gallons of water, growing food, sewage internalized, 70 degrees [or 21 degrees C] year-round … What these kind of houses are doing is taking every aspect of your life and putting it into your own hands … A family of four could totally survive here without having to go to the store.”

Earthships and earth-sheltered homes have started popping up all over Ontario. In spring 2014, Earthship Biotecture is scheduled to build a home on the Six Nations Reserve for a family in desperate need. They will host a free workshop for First Nations peoples who want to be involved. The hope is to provide the community with the skills to replicate the building. They also hope to generate enough interest and financial support through fundraising to build and teach on other reserves throughout Canada. To learn more or make a contribution, go to http://earthship.com/canada.

The creative ideas of Malcolm Wells and Mike Reynolds have the potential to dramatically reduce our footprint on the Earth, increase self-sufficiency and bring about a better world. Now that’s something to get excited about!

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