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Debates Forum

  1. Donation rwingett
    Ming the Merciless
    09 Aug '13 21:31
    This is a project by Michael Reynolds to bring his 'Earthship' design to Malawi. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Michael Reynolds, and his work, were featured in the 2007 documentary 'Garbage Warrior', which chronicled his design and building of various 'Earthships.'

    So...what is an Earthship? From Wikipedia:

    Earthship® is a registered trademark by Michael Reynolds, that refers to a type of passive solar house made of natural and recycled materials (such as earth-filled tires), designed and marketed by Earthship Biotecture of Taos, New Mexico.

    Earthships are primarily designed to work as autonomous buildings using thermal mass construction and natural cross ventilation assisted by thermal draught (Stack effect) to regulate indoor temperature. Earthships are generally off-the-grid homes, minimizing their reliance on public utilities and fossil fuels. Earthships are built to utilize the available local resources, especially energy from the sun. For example, windows on sun-facing walls admit lighting and heating, and the buildings are often horseshoe-shaped to maximize natural light and solar-gain during winter months. The thick, dense inner walls provide thermal mass that naturally regulates the interior temperature during both cold and hot outside temperatures.

    Internal, non-load-bearing walls are often made of a honeycomb of recycled cans joined by concrete and are referred to as tin can walls. These walls are usually thickly plastered with stucco. The roof of an Earthship is heavily insulated – often with two layers of four inch poly-iso insulation – for energy efficiency.


    That brings me to the following site:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/earthship/community-center-earthship-flower-prototype-malawi

    This is, as I've said, Michael Reynolds' attempt to bring the Earthship design to Malawi. The purpose is to teach the locals a method for building low cost, sustainable, off the grid and self-reliant community centers that will provide an abundance of running water, electricity, shelter and food. The beauty of the program is that it is something that people in an area without many resources can do themselves without too much cost, while building up local resilience. This local communities can manage themselves while reducing the susceptibility of local communities to the caprices of distant hierarchies, international bankers and global casino capitalism.

    I would welcome all input, of course, but I am specifically looking for the input of THWHITEHEAD, as he is always carping on about Africa.
  2. Donation rwingett
    Ming the Merciless
    10 Aug '13 11:24 / 1 edit
    To give an idea of how Mr. Reynolds' Earthship design figures into the broader picture, a look at 'The Valhalla Movement' might be in order. This is what the revolution looks like:

    http://valhallamovement.com/
  3. 10 Aug '13 11:50
    Michael Reynolds is my father's hero. He built an earthship in the garden (not quite finished).

    I think they're great but the amount of manual labour needed to build this kind of structure is substantial. If the materials are free (which they were in my father's case) then you have to offset this against the labour costs. But in a resource depleted world they'll make more and more sense.

    It would be a daunting project to undertake yourself; if there was some sort of communal arrangement where a group of people all built each others' earthship then the amount of labour invested at the point it would be equitable would be the same as building your own. With government support it might make sense.

    They would be an infinitely more aesthetic and sustainable option than the ticky-tack boxes being constructed presently. And more in keeping with the traditional African aesthetic.
  4. Donation rwingett
    Ming the Merciless
    10 Aug '13 12:09
    Originally posted by Green Paladin
    Michael Reynolds is my father's hero. He built an earthship in the garden (not quite finished).

    I think they're great but the amount of manual labour needed to build this kind of structure is substantial. If the materials are free (which they were in my father's case) then you have to offset this against the labour costs. But in a resource depleted ...[text shortened]... es being constructed presently. And more in keeping with the traditional African aesthetic.
    I agree. The attraction is that being more labor intensive rather than capital intensive, the Earthship project is manageable from a local, grass roots, community level. It doesn't breed a reliance on hierarchical modes of control, like large, capital intensive engineering projects would. It fosters local autonomy and insulates local communities from the caprices of predatory financiers.

    Community involvement, such as with the Malawian village, or with the Valhalla movement, would be crucial, and rebuilding viable communities is one of their primary objectives. It wouldn't lend itself as well to the atomized existence that is typical of contemporary, consumerist culture.

    I really think that this type of movement (which is really just picking up where 19th century utopian socialism left off) is the wave of the future.
  5. 10 Aug '13 13:27
    Originally posted by rwingett
    I agree. The attraction is that being more labor intensive rather than capital intensive, the Earthship project is manageable from a local, grass roots, community level. It doesn't breed a reliance on hierarchical modes of control, like large, capital intensive engineering projects would. It fosters local autonomy and insulates local communities from the ca ...[text shortened]... ally just picking up where 19th century utopian socialism left off) is the wave of the future.
    I really think that this type of movement (which is really just picking up where 19th century utopian socialism left off) is the wave of the future.

    I'm busy building a wood stove gasifier. This technology was prevalent during World War II when as many as a million vehicles were powered by wood gas. The future will definitely see a return to technologies and ways of life shrugged off with the advent of cheap oil as supplies dwindle and the ratio of energy invested in their extraction approaches the amount of energy returned. My only fear is that it will be after widespread societal collapse.
  6. 10 Aug '13 13:54
    Originally posted by rwingett
    I would welcome all input, of course, but I am specifically looking for the input of THWHITEHEAD, as he is always carping on about Africa.
    I have so far only read what you quoted, which seems to suggest building design to avoid the need for heating. Malawi is in a tropical climate and as such heating is not a major problem. Cooling however is.
    I must note however that most poor people get by without either heating or cooling. The best ways to achieve cooling are:
    1. grow trees around the house.
    2. high ceilings.
    Sadly, many people do not realize the effect of trees, and we have seen some examples of people buying a house, chopping down all the trees, then 6 months later installing air conditioners.

    However, if there is more to what he is doing, then I will have to read a bit more before commenting.
  7. 10 Aug '13 15:24
    Originally posted by rwingett
    I agree. The attraction is that being more labor intensive rather than capital intensive, the Earthship project is manageable from a local, grass roots, community level. It doesn't breed a reliance on hierarchical modes of control, like large, capital intensive engineering projects would. It fosters local autonomy and insulates local communities from the ca ...[text shortened]... ally just picking up where 19th century utopian socialism left off) is the wave of the future.
    The idea seems to hold great promise, as long as government is kept out of it. For example, at present in the US governments handle the majority of beverage cans due to deposits, but that could end, leaving that as a collectable resource for builders.

    I might add that until the mid 20th century, air conditioning did not exist. Heating was fairly primitive, and nobody really thought about scientific insulation. For example the building standard in Michigan was R13 and now it is R49.

    The problem with it growing in urban and suburban America is the building trades, local ordinances, and NIMBY neighbors. It has a much better chance of success in rural areas to prove its worth first.
  8. 10 Aug '13 15:59
    Originally posted by rwingett
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/earthship/community-center-earthship-flower-prototype-malawi.
    OK, I have read the contents of that link.
    I like the idea of using old tires, though I am not sure how easy it is to get hold of them, or whether they are the best building material. The end result in the picture looks like it might be a problem to keep clean. Possibly not much good for housing, but OK for a community centre.
    The rest all seems pretty standard ie solar panels, water, toilets etc. Nothing revolutionary. I have no objection to any of it except the only thing that stops us doing it is money.
    I also notice that they are spending money on a construction team, and their travel expenses etc. It would be interesting to know just how much all that costs. Quite often aid ends up benefiting foreigners more than the people supposedly being helped. Maybe they should just send one person who can then train local people to do the rest? Or just send the money and find a local person to arrange everything?
  9. 10 Aug '13 16:12
    I must also add that if you really want to help Africa, then put all your resources into campaigning against farm subsidies in the US and Europe.
  10. 10 Aug '13 17:53
    I watched the video.
    The water catching roof is not going to be worth a whole lot. In that part of Africa, about half the year is 'rainy season' and the other half is 'dry season'. Unless your tank can hold 6 months worth of water, its going to be empty for some of the year. Even during the rains, I am not sure how consistent the rainfall is. In Livingstone, we can get one third of our years rain in one big storm.
    Certainly on buildings roof is not going to provide a whole lot of water. Although I do not object to it, much more useful would be a well or borehole or a water filtration system.
    I also saw no mention of solar cookers. They are a cheap yet effective way to provide cooking especially if you are cooking for large groups. But I am not certain if cooking is a requirement for this building.

    I would also like to know what the money is being spent on. They have a project goal of USD 50,000. It seems a lot for a community centre, but I don't know the price of the solar panels, tanks etc.
  11. 10 Aug '13 21:36
    Brining in an outside construction team seems to fly in the face of the community labor idea. Why not use locals and train them to do this?
  12. 11 Aug '13 14:48
    Originally posted by dryhump
    Brining in an outside construction team seems to fly in the face of the community labor idea. Why not use locals and train them to do this?
    Although I said the same thing, it turns out that they are only building some of it whilst training locals, and in addition, some of the people coming to build have to pay for the experience (rather than get paid).
    Still, it would probably be more economical to just send the money, but its possible you wouldn't get the funding that way.

    I am generally not apposed to aid, and welcome any aid however poorly managed. However, Africas very big and very real problems cannot be solved by this kind of aid. It barely scratches the surface.
    Africa's problems are three:
    1. poor governance.
    2. a high disease burden.
    3. exploitation by other countries.
    If you really want to help Africa, you need to do one of three things:
    1. Help us with governance.
    2. Help with various health programs such as vaccination campaigns and cheaper drugs.
    3. Campaign against the massive exploitation that is going on. This includes everything from farm subsidies to tax evasion and corruption. People always try to place the blame for corruption on the African governments, but it is usually first world nation companies benefiting the most from the corruption. This is especially the case in mineral and oil exploitation.