Archives for posts with tag: Building a Better World

Robots and Profit

“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.” – Stephen Hawking

An economy is successful if it adequately provides for all its citizens. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development states that poverty in Canada has been steadily growing since the 1990s. Now, one in seven Canadians live in poverty. But hope is on the horizon. Canada is getting set to initiate experiments with guaranteed basic income, and proponents are coming out across the political spectrum.

Back in the ‘70s, we were told that technological advancements would lead us to a life of leisure and comfort. Instead, for much of society, it has resulted in job insecurity, a downward pressure on wages, and job scarcity. We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

According to the Bank of England, 50% of jobs could be taken over by machines in the next 10 to 20 years. “These machines are different,” the bank’s chief economist Andy Haldane said. “Unlike in the past, they have the potential to substitute for human brains as well as hands.”

Examples include:

  • IBM Watson, famous for winning $1 million on Jeopardy, is now doing analysis for medical professionals.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to write real estate, financial analysis and sporting event articles indistinguishable from those by human journalists.
  • Driverless vehicles will cut into the markets of parts suppliers, auto insurers, body shops, parking lot operators, and many more.
  • Google and Apple are starting up mobile account and loan companies that threaten Canada’s big banks, who responded in 2015 by increasing automation and cutting jobs.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM are all betting on AI as a prime source of growth. Mid-level jobs are on the radar.

For the owners of capital, automation has been a bonanza. As capital replaces labour, owners seize a greater share of income. An Oxfam International study showed that in the last 5 years, the number of people that have as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity has gone from 388 people to just 62. The richest 1% now has more wealth than the rest of the world combined. And the automation revolution still has a long way to go.

To address the increasing concentration of wealth at the top, some Canadian provinces are conducting pilot projects on a guaranteed basic income. Every citizen in the project would be guaranteed a minimum income. At income tax time, low-income earners would receive a rebate. As income increases, the benefit declines, but less than proportionately to ensure an incentive to work.

If adopted, existing welfare, disability support and old age security programs would be replaced. Several Queen’s University professors have tallied the cost of a Canada-wide basic income system that provides every adult in with an annual income of $20,000 and children with an income guarantee of $6,000. The cost: $40 billion.

The Fraser Institute pegs the total cost of Canada’s current income support system at $185 billion in 2013.

So there are some huge potential savings to a streamlined system. But there are other potential savings too. Poverty is also one of the biggest burdens on the healthcare and criminal justice systems in Canada. Health care now consists of nearly half of provincial spending and is under great pressure to cut costs.

Back in the 1970s, Manitoba ran a successful basic income pilot project in the small town of Dauphin. The four year program saw unprecedentedly high secondary school graduation rates and an 8.5% reduction in hospitalizations, particularly for mental health, accidents and injuries. The project aimed to find out if giving money to working poor would kill their drive to work. The result: only new mothers and high school aged boys opted to work less – and for very good reasons. The project was widely viewed as a resounding success but was cancelled for political reasons.

Support for basic income is widespread in Canada. The municipality of Kingston and the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton have voiced their support. Both Ontario and Quebec announced plans to run pilot projects. The Liberal Party of Manitoba has pledged to run two pilot projects if they win in April 2016. The Canadian Medical Association is behind it. Mr. Jean-Yves Duclos, Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development has expressed pleasure that the program is generating interest. (Although basic income is not in the official Liberal platform, two policy resolutions on basic income were passed at the 2014 Convention.) It’s endorsed by the Green Party of Canada in their policy document, Living Green. Senator Art Eggleton has tabled a motion in the Senate to encouraging the federal Liberals to evaluate it. Former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has endorsed the idea for 45 years.

Outside of Canada, interest is growing too. The Dutch launched a pilot project in the city of Utrecht. Finland has announced it will bring in basic income for everyone later this year. The Swiss vote in June on a basic income plan that will provide every citizen with the equivalent of $3,200 Canadian per month.

With even more automation and concentration of wealth, poverty in Canada is sure to grow. We could try to create new meaningless jobs selling more stuff we don’t need, creating more pollution and destroying more of the earth’s dwindling resources. Or, we could conserve our resources, reduce government spending and provide all Canadians with a decent life. The biggest challenge will be standing up to the interests of the “machine-owners”. But, it looks like we may be ready.

First published in the April/May 2016 issue of North Simcoe Life.

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PULSES

With our society’s overflowing abundance of food, I haven’t given food security much thought. But my complacency has been rattled by the steadily increasing cost of food, up 4.1% in 2015 and expected to rise another 4% in 2016 (Food Institute, University of Guelph). Then, as if by providence, I stumbled upon an article in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic – The New Food Revolution.

Until I read this piece, I had no idea of our predicament. “Our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet,” warns author Jonathan Foley, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, environmental scientist, and expert on food security.

First, the global agricultural system produces up to one-third of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. The way we grow and produce our food drives global climate change.

farm_emissions_sources

Farming emissions come from a variety of sources that differ depending on the type of farm. Image credit: IPCC

Second, without a major change in what we eat, we will need to double the production of food crops by 2050 for both human and livestock consumption. With the spread of affluence, particularly in China and India, a growing portion of food crops will go to the production of meat, dairy and eggs.

Third, agriculture is the thirstiest user of our dwindling water supplies.

 

Fourth, farming is a major driver of wildlife extinction through the pollution and destruction of ecosystems. Indonesia’s tropical forests, home to orangutans and some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet are being burned down for plantation development.

Fifth, a billion people currently lack adequate access to food, and that number will certainly increase, contributing to worldwide instability (think of Syria, for instance).

Foley and his team of scientists set out to answer this question: “How can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture?”

They identified five steps:

Step One: Freeze agriculture’s footprint

We already use an area the size of South America to grow crops, and an area the size of Africa to raise livestock.

Step Two: Grow more on farms we’ve got

Yields on less productive farmlands, especially in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, can be boosted several times over with precision farming techniques and organic farming approaches.

Step Three: Use resources more efficiently

Tailor the application of fertilizers and pesticides to exact soil conditions. Subsurface drip irrigation, cover crops, mulches and compost conserve water and build up nutrients.

Step Four: Shift diets

We need to eat less grain-fed meat, particularly beef. For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef.

Step Five: Reduce waste

An estimated 25% of the world’s food calories and up to 50% of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. In rich countries like Canada, most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets.

One of the best things we can do for our health, our budgets, and for the planet is to add pulses to our diet. Never heard of them? Neither had I, until the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. They are legume crops harvested solely for the dry seed, such as peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

IYP 2016

Pulses are very high in protein and fibre, low in fat, and have high levels of minerals such as iron, zinc, and phosphorous as well as folate and other B-vitamins. They are nitrogen-fixing crops that improve soil fertility (unlike other crops that require nitrogen fertilizer made from natural gas). And, they require far less water than other protein sources (i.e. 50 litres of water per kilogram versus 13,000 litres of water per kilogram of beef).

Pulses are Canada’s fifth-largest crop, but most of what we grow gets exported. By adding pulses to our diet, we also support an important Canadian industry.

Go to http://www.pulsecanada.com/ for recipe ideas. For me, it’s spicy lentil tacos tonight!

This article was first published in the February/March 2016 issue of North Simcoe Life in my Building a Better World column.

 

 

Za'atri Refugee Camp in Jordan

Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Climate change is not just an environmental issue. – Greenpeace

It has taken the world four years to wake up to the horror in Syria. How we respond to the crisis will help determine the kind of world we live in.

The Syrian crisis is almost beyond comprehension – the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since WWII. Over 17 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance: 13.5 million people within Syria (over half of whom are displaced) and 4.2 million people who fled the country. Civilian deaths from the conflict are estimated at over 250,000.

100115-refugee-camp-copy

Since 2011, the Syrian people have faced uninterrupted violence from Government forces and armed opposition groups. The European Commission states, “Rape and sexual violence, enforced disappearances, forcible displacement, recruitment of child soldiers, summary executions and deliberate shelling of civilian targets have become commonplace.”

We cannot stand idly by. Not when our hands are so dirty. Not when the world has become so interconnected. Not as a looming refugee threat grows in many highly populated areas of the world. We need to get this right, because the refugee era has arrived.

Through our contribution to climate change, we in the West have helped create the mad state of affairs in Syria. Research conducted by Columbia University’s Earth Institute explored how a record-breaking drought between 2006 and 2010 contributed to the Syrian uprising of 2011. Up to 60% of Syria’s land experienced, “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” (Moreover, in 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a US federal agency, published strong evidence linking the drought to climate change.) Millions of farmers and their families abandoned their properties, and joined hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees that had fled the American invasion of Iraq and the resulting sectarian violence. Syria’s big cities became overcrowded, food prices soared and water became scarce. Mismanagement and neglect by the al-Assad regime sparked the civil war still raging today. Fear, anger, misery and disaffection created the opening for ISIS to thrive in Syria.

drought

How we deal with Syria affects our national identity and our international reputation. The Syrian crisis provides us with the opportunity to restore our tarnished image as humanitarians. We must do better than allowing in only about 2,500 refugees between 2013 and September 2015. Canada has a proud history of helping refugees. In 1957, Canada admitted 37,000 Hungarians. From 1979-1980, Canada welcomed almost 60,000 Vietnamese.

We can do more than accept a very small percentage of the refugees; we can send money to help care for and resettle over 17 million Syrian people, both inside and outside of Syria. Despite record levels of aid from the international community, the UN refugee agency reported in September a funding shortfall of an astounding $4.6 billion dollars (62% of the budget). The Canadian federal government has pledged $810 million in aid for Syria. In September, the government announced it will also match every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities for aid in the crisis, up to $100 million, until December 31, 2015.

The Liberal Government’s pledge to stop participating in the US led bombing missions in Syria and Iraq was the right move. Unfortunately, it cost us $528 million, fell outside of international law, and was deemed a failure by authorities including former US President Jimmy Carter, retired Canadian colonel George Petrolekas (fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute), Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington), and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. All promote the pursuit of diplomatic solutions as the only way to establish peace in the region.

As humanitarians and peacekeepers we can hold our heads high and regain our positive international influence.

The Syrian refugee crisis is a trial run for the massive mobilization of climate refugees to come. Around 1 billion people today do not have adequate water for drinking, agriculture or sanitation, and the situation is going to get worse. Since the early twentieth century, with few exceptions, glaciers around the world have been retreating at unprecedented rates (National Snow and Ice Data Center). More than half of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted (Water Resources Research Journal, June 2015). About one in three people live in drylands susceptible to desertification. The United Nations predicts that by 2030, between 24 and 700 million people will be displaced by water crises. In January 2015, the World Economic Forum identified the water scarcity as the number one global risk based on impact to society.

This is a pivotal moment. The U.S. Defense Department issued a report last November identifying climate change as a “threat multiplier” that will impact national security. Do we turn our back on the destitute of the world and enhance security measures in an attempt to protect ourselves from their anger, their wrath and their desperation? Or, do we accept our responsibility toward our fellow man, extend a helping hand and share our good fortune? As the saying goes: United we stand

Solar panel against blue sky

This article was first published in the August/September 2015 issue of North Simcoe Life.

The International Energy Agency predicts that if industry and governments do their part, solar will be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050. For this to happen, they stress “the need for clear, credible and consistent signals from policy makers.”

What signals are we getting in Canada? In 2014, Canada was a world leader in fossil fuel subsidies, pegged at $34 billion a year, according to the International Monetary Fund. And, according to a UN sponsored report, 2014 Canadian renewable energy investments were $8 billion. No wonder we are lagging.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. and Europe, innovations are paving the way to cost parity with fossil fuels.

A New Way to Make Solar Panels

Traditional solar cells are made with crystalline silicon. Production is very energy intensive, making it the most expensive material in solar panels.

Rayton Solar of California has figured out how to use 50 to 100 times less silicon per panel. Using a new high tech process, they cut silicon in much thinner layers (only 4 micrometers thick) without any waste.  They say that their panels can be manufactured in the U.S. at a cost of 60% less than solar panels made in China, where most are made.

Rayton 1

Rayton particle accelerator cuts silicon in thin layers without any waste.

Solar for the North

Solar power generation no longer requires lots of sunlight. Researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have created a black solar cell with record-breaking 22.1% efficiency (versus the industry standard of 15%). And the best part: It works really well on cloudy days and with low sun angles.

Transparent Solar Cells

Transparent cell

Ubiquitous Energy, an MIT startup, has done the impossible: They have created a transparent solar cell that can be used as a window or display for an electronic device.

A transparent surface does not typically absorb light. In these cells, organic salts are used to absorb non-visible wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared light. The light is then transferred to traditional solar cells that convert it into electricity.

The prototype currently has an efficiency of 1%, although the researchers think that 10% is possible. That may not sound impressive, but with widespread use, the numbers would add up.

Capturing More Energy From the Sun

A team of scientists from MIT and Stanford University are working on solar cells that have proven to boost efficiency by 50%. Their “tandem” photovoltaics use both silicon and perovskite as semiconductor materials, thereby absorbing more of the solar energy spectrum. Silicon absorbs photons at the top of the spectrum, while perovskite captures photons in the lower infrared range.

Solar Panels That Retain Energy

Today’s solar panels can only store energy for a few microseconds. Inspired by how plants generate energy through photosynthesis with extremely high efficiency, chemists at UCLA have found a way to organize inexpensive plastic photovoltaic materials to greatly improve their ability to retain energy from sunlight. The key is to separate positive and negative charges by arranging the elements precisely, like plants do, to prevent electrons from freely hopping about.

Concentrating PV Panels

How do you concentrate the power of sunlight in a solar panel while minimizing the use of silicon? Use lenses, the way you would light a fire with a magnifying glass. A number of American companies such as Sunrgi, Emcore and Solaria are racing to bring concentrating PV panels to market in the next year or two. Prototypes are breaking records with efficiencies of up to 45% to date.

Heliotropism: Tracking the Sun Naturally

Current electronic based systems that rotate solar panels to track the sun are costly to buy, install, maintain, and operate. Their complexity also leads to breakdowns.

Sulas of Colorado has created a simple, inexpensive, reliable and powerful tracking technology that uses the power of the sun to rotate a collection of solar panels. They call it the HelioDrive. (Heliotropism is the ability of flowers to follow the sun.)

Sulas HelioDrive

The HelioDrive relies on three components: a parabolic solar concentrator, a receiver filled with a small amount of engineered paraffin wax (that acts as a hydraulic motor), and a single moving component that translates linear movement into rotational motion. The system can lift over 3,000 pounds and operate in a wide range of environmental conditions.

The HelioDrive parabolic concentrator

World leaders are meeting in Paris this November to finalize legally binding carbon reduction plans for every nation. We need a National Clean Energy Strategy and an end to fossil fuel subsidies. The transition to a carbon free economy is the greatest economic opportunity of all time (source: Jeremy Rifkin, political advisor and author of the Third Industrial Revolution). Let’s get in the game.

This article was first published in the June/July 2015 issue of North Simcoe Life.

Tesla Powerwall

The Powerwall Tesla Home Battery

Democracy is knocking on the door. Huge capitally intensive industries barricade the entrance. We are their captives with nowhere else to turn for the energy we need to power our lives. They use their money and influence to mold public policy without regard for social justice or ecological wisdom. The result: we fail to act on climate change. And we’re told we have no choice but to fund multi-billion dollar nuclear power, although no one has a clear idea about what to do with the radioactive waste.

There is a key that will unlock the door: new efficient ways to capture and store renewable energy.

On April 30, 2015 Tesla Energy launched Powerwall, its lithium-ion battery for home use. (Systems for businesses and utilities are also available.) Suddenly, energy sustainability and self-reliance have arrived on our doorstep. The Tesla Powerwall comes at a fraction of the price of previous systems. For $3,000 US (plus installation and the purchase of a DC-AC inverter), you can mount the system on your garage wall, store energy produced by your solar panels or produced by the grid at off-peak prices, run your home on battery power during peak evening hours, and power up your plug-in car. The system also automatically switches your home to battery power during power outages, making noisy, dirty, cumbersome generators a relic of the past. If you want to disconnect completely from the grid, you can link up to 9 units together.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SolarCity, claims that he and his competition will sell 2 billion battery packs. His vision, no less, is to reshape the power grid with millions of small power plants made of solar panels on roofs and batteries in garages. Is he crazy? Consider his quote about the sun.

“The sun, that highly convenient and free fusion reactor in the sky, radiates more energy to the Earth in a few hours than the entire human population consumes from all sources in a year.”

If you think Tesla’s Powerwall is exciting, wait to you hear about the revolutionary flow battery of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The team, led by Professor Michael J. Aziz, has developed a battery that can easily be scaled down for home use or scaled up to store surplus energy from a whole wind farm. It is fueled through an electrochemical process by an abundant, safe, low-cost organic chemical dissolved in water. It charges about 1000 times faster than former systems that used expensive and toxic fuel sources. And it has near unlimited longevity. In short, it promises massive electrical storage at greatly reduced cost. Harvard’s business partner, Sustainable Innovations is currently working on a prototype. It won’t be long before we get our hands on it. They project the development of a multi-billion dollar industry by 2020.

Yes, the behemoths that block the door should be scared. With abundant renewable energy captured and stored economically, we won’t need them anymore. It’s time we all join forces, take control of our destiny, and shove them out of the way. Democracy has arrived. Are you ready to participate?

This is the second article in a series about the Third Industrial Revolution, the new economic paradigm that is transforming our lives. This article appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of North Simcoe Life.

Minto flywheel - a mechanical battery that stores energy as kinetic motion.

The Minto flywheel – a mechanical battery that stores electricity as kinetic motion.

Our world is undergoing a metamorphosis. Quietly, changes are happening. Smart meters record our electricity use. Solar panels and wind turbines are popping up everywhere. New smart devices are arriving every day. We don’t feel the impact on our lives, yet. But the smart grid is revolutionizing our relationship with energy, and it will change everything.

How we run our homes is being transformed. Not only do we have access to information from the grid to make better choices about our electricity use, but our gadgets will too. Imagine a fridge that will automatically defer its defrost cycle to off-peak hours, for instance. The grid itself, with our permission, will be able to make adjustments to the operation of our appliances during peak hours (using demand response technology). In essence, with smart information technologies, we will effortlessly be able to do much more with less demand on the grid (and more money in our pockets).

In some jurisdictions, demand response technology is already a reality. Homeowners can join the peaksaver PLUS program. Installation of a small device allows your electric utility to turn down your central AC system and electric hot water heater slightly during peak hours.

Appliances will also interface with an energy management system (EMS). With your EMS, you will program appliances (even to respond automatically to inputs from the grid), operate them remotely with a smart phone or computer, and get energy saving suggestions based on usage patterns. For instance, by showering at set times, you can program your water heater to turn down most of the day.

On the supply side, the smart grid allows renewables to become a first-tier energy source. Renewable energy poses new problems for the grid: Production is intermittent, widely distributed and of inconsistent voltage.

Ontario’s smart grid is developing ways to store excess energy. In July 2014, a flywheel, the first of its kind in Canada, was connected to the grid in Minto. (A flywheel is a mechanical battery that stores electricity as kinetic motion.) In August 2014, a lithium battery was installed in Central Strathroy. The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), tasked with balancing supply and demand, is in the process of securing a total of 50 MW of energy storage services. Other options being investigated include: compressed air and vacuumed air, thermal energy, fuel production, magnetic fields, pumped storage (hydro power) and electric vehicles.

Renewable power requires flexible transmission and distribution networks. They will need to reroute power when necessary, accept power from many locations and be able to monitor and improve the quality of the power.

Ontario’s high voltage transmission networks already enable two-way flow and remote control, and use embedded monitoring sensors, controls, and automation in case of emergency. Large renewable energy companies connect directly to these networks.

Low voltage distribution networks, owned by private distribution utilities, originally just delivered electricity to consumers in a one-way flow. Now, small renewable power installations, like the solar panels on your home, connect to distribution networks (thus the term distribution generation), so the utilities are starting to smarten up. As more distribution generation comes on stream, less power will be brought in from high-voltage transmission networks and the demands on distribution utilities to manage the supply and quality of power will grow.

Most power outages are due to distribution network faults. With smart grid technology, power outages will be shorter and fewer in number. Sensors on the line and smart meters will locate problems for quick service. Power will be rerouted and restored to most customers automatically and without delay. Some problems will be picked up by sensors before any outages result and addressed proactively.

Development of the smart grid in Ontario has had some big bungles, to be sure. A small number of specialized meters for seasonal properties were replaced due to a possible fire hazard. Some customers were hit with huge “catch-up” bills after receiving no invoices or underestimated charges for up to two years. Others continued to receive bills after their homes burned down. And, the cost of installing the meters ran way over budget.

As disconcerting as these problems were, it’s important to keep things in perspective. It’s early days, but as the infrastructure is put in place and the kinks are worked out, the full potential of the smart grid will come to light. We have relied on fossil fuels for two and a half centuries, and in that time we have used up the easily accessible sources and put the Earth’s biosphere in jeopardy. Now we have a viable chance of ending the fossil fuel era. Ontario has been a leader in pursuing this transition. That’s something worth getting behind.

ImageImage

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

Photo 1
Source: Michael Reynolds, Earthship Biotecture

Photo 2
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!