The Revolutionary Mud House Movement

First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Directed by David Sheen (2010)

Film Review

First Earth is about the growing movement to build homes from wood rather than word or concrete. The film is divided into 12 segments, providing an intriguing glimpse into the 50% of the world who already live or work in mud structures. A growing number of third world leaders are highly critical of industrial society’s efforts to colonize them by destroying their cultures and dragging them into a cash economy.

Part 1 Intro Any civilization that continually consumes its non-renewable resources will eventually destroy the land base that supports it. According to the US Department of Energy, wood and concrete buildings consume 40% of total global energy and 40% of the raw materials the world consumers. In North America, 75% of the trees felled are used in construction.

Ravaging our forests in this way is responsible for approximately 200 species extinctions every day. Replanting trees is ineffective in preventing extinctions because it doesn’t replace the delicate forest ecosystems which have been destroyed.

Part 2 African Earth visits a Ghanaian village where every member knows how to build their own house from free locally sourced materials.

Part 3 American Earth explores the history of Pueblo architecture, based on adobe bricks and plaster, and the US permaculture movement, which is studying and teaching how to build homes out of cob.*

Part 4 Why Earth argues that cheap energy has allowed westerners to move building materials long distances. Building with locally sourced mud is far more sustainable, as it requires no fossil fuel energy and produces no end of life waste. Mud is also an ideal (free) insulator for homes relying on passive solar heating.

Part 5 Empowering Earth describes the history of the cob building movement, which started in Oregon and now offers courses across North America.

Part 6 Another Earth is Possible discusses the ins and outs of obtaining building permits and mortgages for a cob home.

Part 7 European Earth describes the spread of the cob movement to the UK.

Part 8 Arabian Earth describes the long history of earth building in Yemen, which uses mud bricks to construct high rise buildings and has mud brick structures standing that pre-date Islam (600 AD).

Part 9 Urban Earth explores how the earth building movement and similar experiments in sustainability are helping Portland residents improve civic engagement and regain their sense of community.

Part 10 Inner City Earth explores how African American activists in Oakland are fighting gentrification by engaging community members in earth building projects.

Part 11 International Earth is about bringing the cob movement to Thailand, where it’s reducing local villagers’ reliance on cement. The move 30 years ago to cement (from traditional bamboo and thatch) has caused a massive debt crisis in many areas of the country. Thailand now has 18 earth building centers teaching around 600 people a month how to build homes out of free, locally sourced mud.

Part 12: The Future of Earth – epilogue.


*Cob is a natural building material made of subsoil, water and some kind of fibrous material (usually straw)

The Growing Coal Train Movement

Momenta

Directed by Andy Miller and Robin Moore (2014)

Film Review

Momenta is about the growing grassroots movement to stop the coal trains that are creating environmental havoc in the Pacific Northwest. The movement owes its diversity to the devastation the trains create in nearly all the communities they pass through.

Hurt by the rapid shutdown of coal-fired power plants (for environmental and economic reasons), the US coal industry is seeking to cut their losses by selling as much coal as possible to China. Coal exported to China via Pacific deep water ports comes from Montana’s Powder River Basin. The coal trains carrying it it follow a circuitous route through Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. They endanger the health and livelihoods of hundreds of communities along the way. Including Montana ranchers facing catastrophic water shortages as the mining companies deplete the Powder River Basin aquifer.

The number of coal trains varies between 18 and 120 a day depending on the community. The trains are uncovered and each sheds 31 tons of coal dust daily. The coal dust contains high levels of mercury and arsenic. This is in addition to the heavy metals contained in diesel particulates given off by the train engines produced by train engines. The latter substantially increases residents’ risk of asthma, heart attack and stroke.

In urban areas, such as Billings, Spokane, Portland, Longview, Seattle and Bellingham, the trains always travel through the poorest neighborhoods. In more sparsely populated areas, they contaminate pristine waterways essential to recreational fishing, water sports and tourism.

The documentary also emphasizes the need to reduce global reliance on coal to reduce overall carbon emissions. The coal industry is indifferent to these so-called “externalities.”

They refuse to cover their trains to reduce the spread of coal dust and are only willing to pay 5% of the $500 million infrastructure necessary to accommodate the increased train traffic. According to one activist, “all they care about is squeezing the last bit of profit out of a dying industry.”

The documentary concludes with a discussion – and a tour of a Marysville solar panel factory – of the beneficial effects of the renewable energy industry on the US economy. The latter creates far more jobs than exporting coal to China and is less dependent on fluctuations in the Chinese economy.

For more information on the anti-coal train movement go to http://www.powerpastcoal.org/