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Earthships: Putting housing back into the hands of the people

The Phoenix Earthship @ Earthship Headquarters, Taos, New Mexico

* This is the full version of an abbreviated article published in Green Lifestyle

Imagine living in a home where you don’t have to pay another electricity or water bill ever again, enjoy a comfortable 21 degrees Celsius temperature inside without a heater or air-conditioner even if it’s freezing cold or boiling hot outside, and only need to go as far as your front sunroom to pick up some fresh fish and vegies for dinner. Costing around the same as a conventional home to build, but having zero utility bills and a near zero carbon footprint, 100% off the grid Earthships are good for the planet, great for your health and wonderful for your wallet.

Visionary architect and creator of Earthships Biotecture, Michael Reynolds aka ‘The Garbage Warrior’ has gained notoriety for his decision to build the homes from used tyres, aluminium cans and glass bottles. Yet sitting in the living room of the Phoenix Earthship in Taos, New Mexico this fact is barely noticeable amidst the stunning design elements around me and the sudden awareness that I have huge amounts of oxygen streaming into my lungs.

I feel like I’m in the middle of a rainforest, even though we’re actually in the middle of a hot, dry desert. I am surrounded by lush, tropical plants dripping with all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Birds are chirping in the rooftops, and a fishpond is a few feet away filled with fat tilapia. A state-of-the-art looking chicken coop is nearing completion outside. “A family of four could live here and have all they need to survive,” says Reynolds who has been developing Earthships Biotecture for 40 years. The rapidly increasing need and demand for housing that makes more sense environmentally and economically means that Earthships are experiencing a surge in attention – in both developed and developing countries - providing solutions where traditional housing has failed.

"Garbage Warrior"and Architect/Creator of Earthships Michael Reynolds

Did you know?

  • The name Earthship was inspired by the similarity shared with a Sea Ship: they are self-functioning self-contained bodies that have all they need to support and sustain those who reside within it. The name also comes from the houses being constructed in and of the earth.

  • 80% of humanity live on less than $10 a day. Hunger is the single gravest threat to the world’s public health with one billion people facing starvation each day. 16, 000 children a day die due to hunger-related causes. Malnutrition is present in half of all child deaths. (World Health Organisation)

Reynolds has been called everything from a genius to a crazy revolutionary but he says he is simply doing something that makes sense. “It is the most logical, straightforward way of taking care of yourself, which also happens to take care of the planet and other people.” Reynolds’ goal is totally sustainable green housing for every man, woman and child on the planet. Far from seeming crazy, once you learn about the benefits of an Earthship vs the economic and environmental disaster of our conventional housing systems not to mention ongoing humanitarian global crises, it seem more crazy that we aren’t universally committed to this goal and moving toward it as fast as possible.

Reynolds is adamant that every human has a right to basic sustenance, and that work should be there to provide any extras we may want in life not something that dictates whether we can eat or not, or have a roof over our heads. “Everyone’s sustenance should not be related to the economy. People have a basic right to sustenance – food, water, shelter. It is possible for everyone on this planet to have sustenance. The pathway to sustenance is easy and available to everybody. Economy should be separate. What these kinds of houses are doing is taking every aspect of your life and putting it in your own hands.”

Earthships are defined by six principles. Food Production is one of the least known and most rapidly developing, which Reynolds is excited about. “My 8 year old grandson was here the other day. He dropped a pole into the pond, caught a fish within 15 seconds, we cooked it up, gathered some salad stuff from the greenhouse and had a meal. We’re slowly introducing more food production into the homes – bananas, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, greens. You can produce enough food to stay alive in any climate.”

Did you know?

  • 250 million tyres in the U.S get thrown away every year, creating piles of useless potentially hazardous landwaste.

  • 1/3 of the world’s energy use is due to home /building heating and cooling.

  • An average of 14 000kg of carbon emissions are generated per household. If the rapid increases in human-induced carbon emissions continue, we face the disappearance of icecaps, rising sea-levels extinguishing entire islands and coastal communities, the loss of coral reefs, and ocean acidification. Oceans are an essential part of how our entire planet functions, and we are dangerously close to the tipping point of irreversible damage. (www.solveclimate.com)

  • Solar energy currently gives us 1% of Australia’s electricity.

  • Earthships have zero carbon emissions.