Biodiversity: Communities and Conservation

By Joshua Kirschner

Whenever communities progress through any sort of industrialization, there is a certain amount of biodiversity that is lost. Roads get paved and habitations get fragmented. Cement mixtures and factories send plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. Water systems become polluted through this that or the other. What if there was a way to promote progress in the housing district while saving a relatively high level of biodiversity?

Enter Earthships, again. In my previous blog, I went through the different aspects of water recycling that comes with Earthship Biotecture. There are so many facets of the Biotecture that I view as being beneficial for about all status levels in the world, from the upper-class elite in New York to the poverty-stricken people of sub-Saharan Africa. They of course are adapted to fit the need of a said individual. I’m making it my goal in life to get as much of the Biotecture into as many hands as possible to promote healthy sustainable growth for developing, and developed, cultures. The wealthy elite are not the only people worthy of giving a helping hand in preserving biodiversity and integrating communities into conservation efforts. I believe through certain types of housing you can have the amenities of a developed country without leaving that gigantic ecological footprint.

Construction for any residential areas will cause a loss of animal species. The trees get brought down, leaving a void for birds, fungi, insects, and other animals using those spaces as a home. From the heavy machinery sending clouds of smoke into the atmosphere to the noise pollution coming from the days of power tool usage, it’s hard for most animals to stick around. I’m not saying by any means building an Earthship keeps the animals and plants from disappearing all together, but there is less of an impact on the loss. There are tires filled with sand as the foundation, and maybe a quarter of the formal A frame modeling. There is no cement in the making, so no factory making cement. The tires are used tires, so there aren’t any extra rubber trees cut down. Looking at a life cycle analysis of an Earthship vs. a traditional house, the Earthship has hands down less of a footprint in the construction.

Earthships not only decrease the loss of biodiversity, but I would argue they increase the biodiversity in the area surrounding them. The plants that go into the house in the planter don’t have to be from the area. I know there would possibly be an issue with invasive species, but the plants that are in the planter inside are fruit and vegetables. If a random cucumber gets spread out, there may be worse things.

Neighboring houses can also have a variety of foods they are growing in their homes. They can grow some of the native veggies and others can grow exotic fruits, since their isn’t really any restraints on the amount of water going to the plants. So things like pineapples and bananas can be grown in just about any environment. This is integral in communities like Ha-Makuya that already have a process like this in place. One family will grow spinach, like my homestay family Nancy and Job, while others can grow beans and just share amongst themselves.

As for more native, non-edible plants, the Earthship has answers as well. There’s a leech field in the back of the house that can grow a Willow tree in the middle of the desert. There is a lot of trees and plants that are grown medicinally in sub-Saharan Africa, like the Pepper bark Tree which is a very endangered tree that the government is giving out to people to try and get it to grow. With the Leech field constantly supplying water to some plants, having a planter, and having plants in hanging planters, there’s a gradient of water necessity that is formed. You can have drought tolerant plants, like most of those found in the South Africa.

Animals and insects would still be a little bit of an issue. Large mammals are a little harder to keep around once communities are built in an area. Trampling of crops and homes is devastating to locals. We learned elephants will sometimes be culled for trampling the crops over and over. And there are certain types of rock gardens you could create to keep them from uplifting the trees that are typically knocked down by them. Crops being inside would alleviate a little bit of the issue. As for as insects go, the way the corridor is set up for the plants permits a sort of insects hallway. Pollinators, spiders, and the like can freely come in and out some of the vented air holes and sun roofs. The corridor can be walled off from the rest of the home, normally for temperature regulation, but can serve two purposes. It’s not a perfect fix for biodiversity of insects and animals, but it is a little better than conventional Western style houses.

We’ve worked in collaboration with the Urban Wildlife Institute that is run from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. The data we have gotten from those guys in America is that there is a much smaller scope of animals that come through the cities and suburbs of Chicago than what is seen around some of the rural parts of Ha-Makuya, Balule, and the greater Limpopo area. It would be a wonderful scene to see the rural areas urbanize without losing that biodiversity that makes them unique.

Natalie Miller