How Permaculture Can Save The World From Monsanto

Speaking to the UK newspaper The Independent last month, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant made some remarks that are just as hard to swallow as the company’s gene engineered food crops.

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For one thing, he blamed the widespread public opposition to eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on lack of attention to marketing during the rollout of the technology. Never mind that other new technologies launched without coordinated marketing campaigns have done just fine as far as public opinion goes. (Cell phones, anybody? The Internet?) Never mind the numerous perfectly legitimate concerns about tampering with the DNA of what we eat. No, obviously the ad agency’s fault.

Grant’s probably not too bothered by anti-GMO consumer advocates, though, because he doesn’t believe that people have any choice but to eat Monsanto products. “Can you [feed the world’s increasing population] without biotech? I don’t think so,” he said. “If not this, then what? How are we going to crack this thing? If Monsanto and this entire industry did not exist then what would the alternative look like?”

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Well, maybe Hugh can’t figure it out, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Let’s help him out a little bit here. Farmers in many parts of the world are still using traditional agricultural methods that are surprisingly congruent with the modern concept of permaculture. Intercropping, organic pest control, soil conservation, and other sustainable practices all feature prominently.

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All well and good, Grant might say, but it’ll never produce enough food to feed nine billion people. But in that case he’d be on the wrong side of a comprehensive 30-year study by the Rodale Institute comparing the effectiveness of organic versus chemical agriculture. Rodale found that organic farming produced at least as much – and in many cases more – food as modern industrial methods. Their conclusion was that “organic farming is better equipped to feed us . . . it’s clear that organic farming is sustainable, while current conventional practices are not.”

How do you like them apples, Mr. Grant?


DIY greenhouse provides 365 days of personal gardening bliss

The Greenhouse of the Future is a new design by a new designer (Francis Gendron), but it traces its pedigree directly to sustainable living guru Mike Reynolds of Earthship fame. Gendron was the first graduate of Reynolds’s Taos, NM, Earthship Biotecture Academy and has obviously taken a considerable amount of inspiration from Reynolds’s work.

Aside from giving you a nice vegetable garden, the greenhouse puts a tropical getaway just past your door.


Gendron took solar heating as a starting point and expanded on it to develop a passive, sustainable greenhouse that’s built of natural and recycled materials and stays warm year-round. It’s set into the ground so that geothermal energy supplements the sunlight, and utilizes aquaponic gardening to increase productivity and reduce inputs.

A good day to be inside – and thanks to the solar/geothermal combo, it’s still warm in there!


A team effort always makes things easier.


Highly functional, but not just functional. With a little attention to detail, the greenhouse looks great.


Grow your own pineapples and bananas!



Turn A Pringles Can Into A Lean, Green, Hot Dog Cooking Machine

If you have a hankering for a roasted hot dog but you don’t have any fire, and you left your solar oven behind, you might still be in luck, assuming you have an empty can of Pringles laying around. This quick and easy DIY will show you how to re-use the empty can to heat a hot dog (or anything else you can skewer) up to 170 degrees in the sun.

First you need to outline the panel on the can


Cut the panel out and save the piece of cardboard to use as a stand.


Get a skewer and poke it through the end cap.


Drill a hole in the bottom of the can to place the other end of the skewer into.


Voila! A DIY hot dog roaster is finished.


Use your cut out panel to make a stand, and set it in the sun, where the highly reflective interior will warm up to a toasty 170 degrees.



She Transformed A School Bus Into An Artistic Ecovillage Dwelling

Once a perfectly ordinary yellow school bus, Aubergine is now an unusual tiny house in an unusual community, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri. Dancing Rabbit is a commune with a focus on ecological sustainability, so when their bus reached the end of its mobile life it was only natural to find a new use for it. In contrast to many bus conversions no attempt has been made to retain a bus aesthetic, and the bus itself has all but disappeared behind a sheet-metal roof, earthen berm and adjacent greenhouse.

Here’s Aubergine, getting towed into her final resting place…


There are good practical reasons for all of the add-ons. The roof diverts rainwater to a collection system, the berm protects the bus body from the wind, and the heat from the greenhouse radiates so well to the living area that the woodstove inside is only needed at night.

Rainwater from the roof fills the blue plastic barrels, and the simple sun porch looks like a great place to read a book.

Aubergine 1Aside from heat, the greenhouse provides kale, horseradish, and strawberries.

Aubergine 6With the greenhouse on one side and an earthen berm on the other, Aubergine stays in the high 60s even when covered with snow.

Aubergine 5The drawback is that the interior’s rather dark, but colored glass bottles serving as small windows brighten it a bit.

Aubergine 4Katherine’s workspace – and coworker looking less than enthusiastic about the photo op.

Aubergine 3There’s no bathroom, but plenty of space for working, relaxing, and sleeping.

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Dancing Rabbit residents built Aubergine over several years at a cost of about $6,000, and it’s now home to eco-artist Katherine Hanson, who’s even found room for a small studio workspace inside the 150-square-foot bus frame. If you’d like to learn more, check out the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage website.


Washing Clothes Offgrid Just Got A Whole Lot Easier

Washing clothes by hand is difficult, time-consuming work. But then, getting a standard washing machine to run off solar panels is pretty difficult too. So aside from trips to the local Laundromat, hand washing, tiresome as it is, has been the best option for many people who live off-grid.


Now Canadian company YiREGO is looking to change that with a 5-liter foot-powered device that looks a little like a high-tech wastebasket. The size means you can’t wash very many clothes at once, so it wouldn’t work for a family, but for someone living by herself it could probably save a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately it won’t ship until July of 2016, but you can pre-order now to lock in an introductory price of $129.



French Law Requires All New Roofs To Be Green

France just wrote a new page in their law book that other countries would be keen to follow. As of this past March, they require any new commercial building to have a green “living” roof or be equipped with solar panels. The aim is to reduce the amount of energy consumed, as green roofs provide better insulation, keeping the building cool in the summer and warmer in the winter months.


In addition, green roofs help promote biodiversity in urban environments, attracting birds and other animals that might otherwise become displaced. An added benefit is the plants retain water, thus reducing runoff and lessening the use of drainage systems.

The push for this change came from environmentalist groups in the country, and was backed by the socialist government. Initially they hoped to require all new buildings to have green roofs, but that seemed like burden on businesses and they opted to require only commercial spaces in the law, with a caveat that solar panels could also be used. As green and “living” roofs become more popular around the world we hope to see this sort of thing grow on people.


Breakthrough Solar Device Turns Saltwater Into Fresh Drinking Water

Here in California we’re entering our fourth consecuitive drought year. The snowpack in the Sierras was a dismal 2% of where it should have been last time I checked, and the swimming holes in my favorite spot, the Yuba River, will most likely be puddles. With so much of our drinking water coming from natural springs and relying on the snowmelt each winter to replenish reservoirs, we need to find alternative ways to get these resources.

image: MIT

One promising technology comes in the form of desalination. Several large facilities exist in CA and elsewhere around the world, but they’re incredibly expensive and not all that efficient. What about your everyday civilian who wants to do the same? Options are limited thus far, but this solar powered device engineered by some brilliant minds at MIT just won the 2015 Desal Prize, a competition ran by USAID that aims to bring water solutions to developing countries. Desalination is especially important for these areas, as indicated here

It works by using solar panels to capture energy that’s stored in a bank of batteries that power an electrodialysis machine which removes salt from water.

For those of us who aren’t electrodialysis experts:

“Electrodialysis works by passing a stream of water between two electrodes with opposite charges. Because the salt dissolved in water consists of positive and negative ions, the electrodes pull the ions out of the water, Winter says, leaving fresher water at the centre of the flow. A series of membranes separate the freshwater stream from increasingly salty ones.”


Audi Turns Water Into Diesel

In a move taken straight from the Jesus miracle playbook, Audi has successfully converted water and carbon dioxide into an ethanol diesel fuel they call “e-liquid”. The breakthrough isn’t actually a new process, and the German automaker uses the Fischer-Tropsch process which has been known by scientists since the 1920s, but the context of this announcement makes for exciting news in today’s modern world where there’s a huge demand for clean, renewable fuel sources.

The breakthrough comes on the heels of a commissioning phase that lasted just four months. Audi teamed up with clean tech company Sunfire to develop the fuel in a Dresden facility. To demonstrate its suitability for everyday use, Federal Minister of Education and Research Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka put the first five liters into her official car, an Audi A8 3.0 TDI clean diesel quattro.

The breakthrough signals a big step toward developing cost-effective renewable fuel, and the announcement added they achieved a 70% efficiency in the process, a figure that’s surprisingly high. No word yet on what the next step will be, but we hope they can bring this to market at a fair price per gallon.


City Bus Turned Offgrid Motorhome For The Nomadic Adventure Seeker

Every craftsman brings their own vision to a new project, with different ideas of what “finished” really means. Projects like this often remain in a state of flux, constantly evolving, but in the case of this offgrid motorhome, we think the owner has crossed the finish line in style.


The La Chancita bus began its life as a 1966 Mercedes-Benz bus that spent its time as a city bus in Buenos Aires. Since then, Manu Fombeurre has overseen a dramatic transformation of the bus, turning it into a rolling home with room to sleep five, a fully equipped kitchen, shower, toilet, and wood burning stove.




The entire interior was gutted and transformed into a sleek wood-paneled beauty with all the creature comforts you’d want in a motorhome.


The transformation took place over nine months, and the finished Chanchita now serves as a base for adventure lovers looking to travel in style to remote wilderness locations. Faction Skis serves as the primary sponsor for the bus, and they contract rentals to interested parties – whether looking to hit a remote surfing destination in the summer or take an epic ski trip in the winter, the Chanchita channels the spirit of adventure that Argentina is known for. We can imagine they have a pretty good life, which might be made all that much better with something like this portable hot tub hammock for camping.

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Want to learn more about the Chanchita, or schedule your own tour? Check out their website.


Japan Unveils The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farms

Japan recently unveiled its most ambitious solar energy project consisting of two massive floating solar “farms” in Kato City, Hyogo Prefecture. The completed project came about from a partnership between Kyocer and Century Tokyo Leasing and was finished in record time, having begun only last September.


The farm is split between two locations, one on Nichihira Pond and another on Higashihira Pond. It consists of 225-watt Kyocera modules, and includes 11,256 total panels with a capacity of 1.7MW and 1.2MW respectively. The power generated from this project will supply enough energy to keep 920 homes lit.

The project represents an ambitious new step in Japan’s solar energy infrastructure, which has doubled since 2011, the same year as the Fukushima reactor disaster, putting them in a position alongside China and the U.S. as a leading contender in the renewable energy sector.


In case you’re wondering what the advantage is of building the system on a floating surface instead of on land, it has to do with the cooling effect of water, which results in more energy generated. Additionally, the extra shading of the water helps promote algae growth and prevents water evaporation.