November 24, 2019
Energy is all around us. Forests, meadows, and wetlands need only solar energy to drive their complex ecosystems. Energy from the sun drives the water cycle as well as air and water currents all over the world.
Inside the earth is a cauldron of hot molten rock, so powerful that it spews out through volcanoes and causes the thin crust that we live on to heave, crack and shift.
We effectively live between the scorching Sun and Earth’s hot interior. It is truly astonishing that we can’t see past fossil fuel. Oil, coal and natural gas is effectively the massive sequestration of carbon trapped underground millions of years ago which allowed the balanced systems of today to develop.
Only the first few feet of bare soil freezes in winter and warms up in the summer. At about six feet, the temperature stays close to 4 degrees Celsius year ‘round. With this in mind, when we were excavating for the house on the farm, we excavated much more of the field to accommodate a geothermal heating and cooling system. Since 2011, we have enjoyed the cool of the earth in the summer and the heat in the winter. The system has worked beautifully. We essentially pump heat into the ground during the summer and remove it in the winter. When the temperature drops to the minus 20’s, we supplement with wood heat to prevent the auxiliary electrical heat unit from kicking in. We use a cord or two of wood per year that we cut from woodlands on our farm.
The cost of installing a geothermal system tends to be high. But, if you are building anyway, it makes a lot of sense, especially if you are out in the country. Admittedly, if everyone in a subdivision had geothermal, it would be less effective.
Our house is built into a hill with the south side fully exposed to the sun. Large windows trap the solar heat. Some inside brick absorbs the heat and radiates it back into the room at night. On a cold, sunny day in the winter, we often enjoy an inside temperature of around 25⁰C without the geothermal unit kicking in until the evening.
Moisture is added into the air by houseplants and laundry drying on racks. We haven’t needed or used an electric dryer for years. There is one collecting dust in our house but we have never bothered using it. The problem with dryers is that the heat generated to dry the clothes is blown outside.
Natural communities have evolved to thrive within the limitations set by seasonal changes. The closer we come, as a species, to doing the same without negatively impacting our fellow creatures, the more likely we will thrive within a healthy environment.
It is more difficult to retrofit a home to incorporate features that allow for efficient energy use and conservation. However, if one is building, I would suggest choosing a piece of land close to 5 acres that will accommodate a geothermal system, food gardens, a meadow of wildflowers and grasses, a wooded area of native plant species, and perhaps, even a greenhouse for winter gardening. Consider house orientation to maximize exposure to sun during the long cold winter. A south facing roof can accommodate solar panels. It is good to keep one’s options open for creating a sustainable home base.
It bothers me to see massive farms of hundreds, even thousands, of acres in monoculture crops that often yield too little profit to cover all the operating expenses and living costs of the farming family. I then imagine an intentional community in which a hundred acres of monoculture farmland is divided into twenty 5 acre lots to accommodate 20 families, each turning their bit of space into a haven of sustainable living, organic gardens, biodiversity, and even market gardening. With each family contributing different fruits, vegetables, perhaps honey or eggs, a co-operative venture can not only feed the twenty families but a good part of the greater community. That would effectively make that 100 acres far more productive at all levels. All generations would have a role to play. Wildlife would flourish and that small piece of land would be filled with activity, colour and the sounds of children and birds.
As we collectively move toward a sustainable existence on this fragile planet, we can easily find solutions that are not only good for the environment but also good for our souls. As soon as we find personal fulfillment in our spaces and recognize our important role in the local community, we will not feel so driven to want to escape to other “more interesting” places on Earth. We will discover that the little piece of earth we occupy is a special window to the entire universe.
We have the technology that allows us to stay connected with people all over the Earth via the internet. We can readily access all kinds of documentaries to see and hear what is happening in other parts of the earth and in space. We have access from our homes to limitless knowledge and the latest in scientific research. We don’t need to travel to see other cultures. We can spend all of our time and resources locally, supporting biodiversity and helping establish strong bonds and communities that are inclusive and caring.
A small bright spot in our tiny part of the Earth can slowly spread and merge with others to ensure a bright future for all.