Radical Voluntary Simplicity

A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity

by Jordan Osmund and Samuel Alexander (2016)

Film Review

A Simpler Way is about an experiment in radical voluntary simplicity in Victoria Australia in 2016 Using donated land, volunteers from Australia, New Zealand and the UK agree to opt out of the money/corporate system and spend a year in an intentional community. The documentary is a record of their experiences.

The premises behind this experiment, called The Simpler Way Project, are as follows:

1. Contemporary civilization has begun to exceed the limits of a finite planet – the fragile Earth cannot support and indefinite increase in people living affluent lifestyles.

2. Technology and the free market can’t save us.

3. We can’t afford to wait for government to find a solution.

4. It’s up to ordinary people to figure out ways of meeting their basic needs that consume fewer resources.

Most of the film focuses on the shelters they erected (after seeking outside expertise) – a combination of tiny houses built from recycled construction materials, cobb houses (see The Revolutionary Mud House Movement) and earthships (see The Earthship Movement: Transforming Garbage into Homes).

Although they would try to grow most of their own food, initially they rely on local organic food from CSA’s (see Top 10 Reasons to Join a CSA). They cook with a combination of open fire and solar and mud overs.

Most find it far more satisfying relying on themselves and other community members to meet their survival needs, as opposed to working at a desk for money. The biggest challenge for all of them is learning the communication and conflict resolution skills necessary to make group decisions. A few become so frustrated with this process they leave and are replaced by new volunteers.

The Earthship Movement – Transforming Garbage into Homes

Garbage Warrior

Oliver Hodge (2007)

Film Review

Garbage Warrior is a about architect and Earthship inventor Mike Reynold’s 30+ year rear radical experiment in sustainable living in Taos New Mexico. An Earthship is a home built out of tires packed with earth or sand and recycled glass and plastic bottles and other waste. Using the tires as a massive thermal mass to absorb heat, it relies on a passive solar design for heating and cooling. Totally off the grid in terms of power, water, and sewage, Earthships are typically build around a central greenhouse used for food production and temperature control.

All Earthshhips must incorporate five basic principles:

  • They must be built with natural or recycled materials
  • They must rely exclusively on solar or wind power and thermal mass for energy, heating
  • They must have a self-sufficient water harvesting system
  • They must have a self-contained sewage system.
  • They must incorporate food production

The Greater World Community

Reynolds began his first Earthship community, the Greater World Community, on ten acres of land in 1990. The idea was to give Mike’s young work crew and followers a low cost plot of land and support them in building their own Earthships. He eventually built two much larger Earthship communities in the Taos area.

Most of the film relates to the legal difficulties Reynolds encountered with local and state authorities, over the failure of Earthships to comply with building codes. In the early 1990s, he voluntarily surrendered his New Mexico architects license to avoid being sued for malpractice. In 2004 he reached a compromise with the county by reclassifying his Earthship “communities” as “subdivisions.”

After three years of intensive lobbying, in 2007 he persuaded the New Mexico legislature to approve his Earthship communities as a “sustainable living test site.” This effectively exempted them from state and local permit requirements. The best part of the film shows him teaching Andaman Islands residents whose homes were destroyed by the 2004 Indonesia tsunami how to build Earthships. This segment provides the most detailed depiction of the actual construction process.

2014 Update

The second film is a 2014 update of the “sustainable living test site” Taos Earthship community. It highlights a number of the technological improvements that have occurred in Earthship construction. It devotes special attention to the unique water management system that allows Earthship owners to survive in desert conditions with nine inches of rainfall per year.