A low-impact Hobbit home?

•May 21, 2010 • 4 Comments

Photo property of Simon Dale.

Simon Dale, an English permaculturist, built a sustainable, low-impact home in a hillside using stone, mud and wood.

According to his website, some key aspects of the design and construction include:

Photo property of Simon Dale.

  • “Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  • Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
  • Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  • Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
  • Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
  • Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
  • Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
  • Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
  • Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
  • Water by gravity from nearby spring
  • Compost toilet
  • Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.”

Photo property of Simon Dale.

Dale and his wife live with their two children in the hobbit-style casa, and built the home for only £3000.  A charming, scenic home that is more sustainable than any house in the suburbs.  Dale says on the home’s website that, “This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology. These sort of low cost, natural buildings have a place not only in their own sustainability, but also in their potential to provide affordable housing which allows people access to land and the opportunity to lead more simple, sustainable lives.”


Have you thought about your CO2 emissions today?

•May 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Taken from Breathing Earth simulation.

Yesterday while Stumbling online, I came across Breathing Earth, a real-time simulation that uses data from the CIA World Factbook and the United Nations Statistics Division to illustrate CO2 emissions, birth rates and death rates for every country in the world.

Although it is impossible for the simulation to be 100 percent accurate 24 hours a day, the sources used are reputable, and Polish-Australian web designer David Bleja writes that, “…the CO2 emission levels shown here are much more likely to be too low than they are to be too high.”

We hear about the impact of CO2 emissions continuously; however, what I appreciated about this highly-interactive simulation was its ability to compare the carbon footprints of each country.  Of course, the U.S. is one of the higher carbon culprits, emitting 1000 tonnes of CO2 every 5.3 seconds.  This means that, according to Breathing Earth, each person in the U.S. is emitting 19.62 tonnes of CO2 per year.  Compare that to China’s estimated 4.59 tonnes of carbon per person per year and it becomes apparent that the U.S. has a long way to go to reduce its devastating footprint on the world.

Potty talk: The evolution of colon conversation

•May 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Last week, Fox news released a secret Elvis desperately wanted to keep: the King might not have died in 1977 from drug-related heart arrhthmia, but rather from severe constipation–constipation that may have been physically treatable but emotionally humiliating for the world’s largest celebrity.

The Fox article says that, according to Dr. George “Nick” Nichopoulos, Presley’s close friend and long-time physician, “the autopsy revealed that Presley’s colon was 5 to 6 inches in diameter (whereas the normal width is 2 to 3 inches) and instead of being the standard 4 to 5 feet long, his colon was 8 to 9 feet in length.”  The article also says that Presley’s famous weight gain prior to death was probably because of this constipation rather than unhealthy eating or drugs.  In other words–the King was full of shit–literally.

Dr. Nick said that, “The constipation upset him quite a bit because Elvis thought that he could handle almost anything, he thought he was really a man’s man and he wasn’t going to let something like this … he thought that this was a sign of weakness and he wasn’t going to be weak,” according to the Fox News article.  “And it’s not the kind of thing you table talk. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s you didn’t’ talk about constipation much, you didn’t’ hear people complaining about it, or saying what they did or how much trouble they had with it.”

Sure, potty talk isn’t as social-justice oriented as my typical blog topics.  But today, at 22, I had my very first colonoscopy.  It was humiliating and unpleasant, but the waiting room was full of other patients receiving the same test.  Turns out, despite my bruised ego, I have a perfectly healthy colon, and my doctor and nurses assured me there was no reason for embarrassment.  After all, everyone has a colon.

I can only imagine that Elvis is rolling around in his grave after finding out that his B.F.F. Dr. Nick spilled the beans, but if Paul McCartney, Billy Joel or Justin Timberlake had the same problem today, would they die from it?  Probably not, because now constipation really is “table talk.”  Jaime Lee Curtis is the well-known spokesperson for Activia, informing the masses of the importance of “regularity.”  Farrah Faucett showed her painful and graphic struggle with anal cancer on national television. In 2002, Katie Couric even had a colonoscopy that aired on the TODAY show.

Granted, all of these celebrities are women, but they are setting an example that our health, even in unmentionable areas, is important.  And catching these sometimes humilating health problems early can in many cases, save lives.

So as hard as potty talk was for Elvis, it could have saved his life.  I am thankful I live in a time where procedures like colonoscopies, while uncomfortable, aren’t as shunned as they were in the ’60s and ’70s.

Constance and her girlfriend finally celebrate

•May 1, 2010 • 1 Comment

About time!

Almost two months ago the Itawamba County School District refused to allow Constance McMillen to bring her girlfriend to her high-school prom and later canceled the event altogether. Then, earlier this month, McMillen was sent to a “fake prom” after courts ruled that refusing her a ticket was discrimination.

But now, after months of media attention and painful teenage experiences, McMillen gets a second chance to celebrate. According to a Stylelist post, “Millions of outraged Americans have come to McMillen’s defense, including Lance Bass (a Mississippi native), Green Day, the American Humanist Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Cat Cora.” After receiving donations from a number of human rights groups and countless supporters, a new prom will take place in Tupelo, Mississippi on May 8, 2010.

The “Second Chance” dance is bound to beat the pants off of the average high-school prom. Musical guest Hey Champ, celebrity DJ Quest Love and other unknown stars are supposed to attend. And this time, all students are invited.

High school is tough enough without discrimination and scrutiny from peers. But Constance’s determination has led to support for other gay teens. In a mass e-mail from the Human Rights Campaign sent out April 12, President Joe Solmonese said, “Since Constance McMillen and her girlfriend were sent to a “fake prom” while her classmates had their own secret prom, 72,037 HRC supporters have signed a petition to show the Itawamba County school board we’re on her side.”

This petition sends a message to Congress in support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act soon to be introduced in both the House and Senate. The act would extend discrimination protection to LGBT students, prohibiting any school program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

So Constance finally gets her prom, and hopefully other LGBT students will eventually be extended the same rights as all of their peers.

Land grabs II: PBS NewsHour covers Ethiopia’s Farming Investments

•May 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

PBS NewsHour is first mainstream medium I've seen discuss land grabs.

Last Thursday, PBS NewsHour aired a newscast discussing the conflicts arising from foreign commercial agricultural investment in Ethiopia, an impoverished region without food security. The report is part of a collaboration with the Project for Under-Told Stories at St. John’s University in Minnesota and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and is the first mainstream newscast I’ve seen addressing the devestation of land grabs in poor countries.

As I posted last week, the World Bank and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations) both seem to suggest that there can be benefits to foreign land acquisitions when handled properly. However, most social justice organizations argue that the practice is unsustainable–threatening food security for indigenous populations in poor countries that have little representation when these deals are made.

The biggest problem regarding land grabbing is the lack of transparency of such transactions. Not only are deals made behind the backs of the local people affected the most, but most deals are also made in secrecy, leaving the public blind to this major agricultural issue. Even the world’s major agricultural organizations such as IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) have little data on how many transactions are actually in affect. In fact, progressive, under-the-radar media and blogs seem to be the only ones covering the topic.

Consequently, I’m thrilled to see Fred de Sam Lazaro and PBS increasing transparency by covering such an underreported issue. I strongly reccommend watching the newscast. Hopefully it will increase international awareness and motivate other journalists to research this threat to Africa’s food security.

The Meatrix uses humor to expose horrors of factory farming

•May 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Meatrix, a viral video that launched in November 2003, is a “unique vehicle by which to educate, entertain and motivate people to create change,” according to its site. Now a series, these videos seek to educate viewers about where there food comes from, shedding a humorous, yet grotesque light on the hidden horrors of factory farming.

The Meatrix, which was released by Free Range Studios, has several suggestions for sustainable eating including: eating less meat, seeking out sustainable restaurants and shopping at local farmer’s markets.

I appreciated that suggestions from The Meatrix didn’t seem horribly extreme, and seemed to focus on health, a concern more easily related to the general public. A quirky way of promoting sustainable eating for all ages.

Land grabbing: food security and exploitation

•May 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Until a couple of days ago, I’d never heard about land grabbing. However, according to an article published by the Oakland Institute, around 180 instances of land grabbing have been reported since mid-2008.

The same article defines land grabbing as “the purchase or lease of vast tracts of land by wealthier, food-insecure nations and private investors from mostly poor, developing countries in order to produce crops for export.” For example, China may set up large pork and chicken operations in Australia to keep up with the demand for meat among Chinese consumers. Meat consumption in China has quadrupled in the last 30 years, a common trend among countries in a period of rapid industrialization.

As countries grow wealthier and tastes expand, large agribusinesses search for ways to satisfy consumers by mass producing well-liked products; however, such expansion takes land. Consequently, wealthy countries buy or lease land cheap from poorer nations. However, this can cause ecological problems for those nations, and in some cases increase food insecurity for countries already struggling.

The Oakland Institute says that, “The International Food Policy Research Institute (IF PRI) has reported that foreign investors sought or secured between 37 million and 49 million acres of farmland in the developing world between 2006 and the middle of 2009.” That’s 49 million acres those countries can no longer use to grow their own food.

, a blog that aggregated news reports on the issue as a resource for activists, non-government organizations and journalists, says the World Bank, in an attempt to address the growing trend, put out principles for responsible agro-enterprise investment. However, legions of organizations promoting sustainable agriculture condemn the World Bank for legitimizing the practice.

I’m hoping to learn more about this practice in the future. Hopefully, mainstream news will soon pick up a topic that is potentially exploiting unknown numbers of poor countries. Just food for thought.