When was the last time you purchased an item at a big box retailer, brought it home and marvelled at the item like it was a piece of art as if someone had spent a LOT of time constructing it with care and attention to detail? Chances are you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times this has happened.
Several hundred years ago, before the advent of the industrial revolution everything was made by hand, more or less. Skilled people, from blacksmiths to shoemakers to bakers to woodworkers, were called craftsmen or artisans. Their product was what we would call custom work today. Each and every piece was individually made.
Fast forward to the 20th century and virtually every household item, from what was worn to what was eaten, was made in a factory with very little skill required. The art in making goods was lost to high output assembly lines. Craftsman became a casualty of modern day industrial processes. And the ones that survived the transition were renamed tradesman because whatever artistic leanings they had were lost in the onslaught of technical efficiency.
Today, cabinet makers, door installers, painters and metal workers have been forced to productive ends only, with the craft of their work being put aside due to the rush towards productivity and economic efficiency.
So we now have an interesting divide between the trades and art. If tradesmen were paid more by how their work looks and craftspeople were paid more by how their work functions you would once again see a merging of function and form. There are indeed small signs of just that happening.
There appears to be a resurgence in Farmers Markets, crafts vendors and home made products. Despite the fact that these people are going “against the grain” economically, the transition is important to our cultural evolution. We need to transition towards a civilization that can harmoniously live on the planet in a sustainable, nurturing and yes, artistic way.
If the system we are familiar with crashes or becomes in some way crippled - an oil price shock or climate disruption could do that - we will see the backbone of local economies become those very people who are returning to those “lost” crafts. I say, let's just move in that direction anyways, it makes our purchases that much more interesting. Support your local artisan.
Have you ever sat on a non-profit board? Everyone should be a director at least once, it gives one a good perspective on organizational function.
I sat on the board of the Lethbridge Sustainable Living Association since 2012. I’m proud to have been part of the original creation of this non-profit society. Proud to have co-drafted its statement of objectives. Those objectives are; to create and support local food initiatives, fossil-free energy projects and eco-friendly, affordable housing. Oh and to use these ideas to build an ecovillage in southern Alberta.
In September 2016 I started to think about resigning from the presidency. It was a position I served for 5 years. While I was on the fence with my indecision and having my doubts about the future of the LSLA, a friend said to me, “you can’t resign the LSLA is your baby”. To me, that was a green light. Because if an organization becomes one person’s baby, that person hasn’t done their job. Their job should be to encourage accountability, lead so that others will follow and bring in others to share that dream. Basically, to make it “everyone’s baby”.
I had never been a particularly effective leader (I have that much self-awareness). I mean, I did stuff but I’ve always lacked that special ingredient that brings people in. And it’s probably due to that awareness that I knew exactly the type of person the LSLA needed. I figured we needed someone younger, with good media savvy, exceptional networking skills and a demonstrated background in environmental concerns.
I was so happy that the right person showed up at the AGM along with a strong contingent of supporters, new and veteran. Today, it's hard to find people with the drive and passion to create their dreams within the framework of a non-profit society. But when you do find the right mix it can be so inspiring. And so it is true for today’s board on the Lethbridge Sustainable Living Association. Thanks Mandy and thanks to all those who stepped up to be on the board of the LSLA!
Today I feel like an elder more than a board executive. It is with both rue and excitement that I look onto this board and it’s incredible growth. On the one hand so happy to see the seeds that were planted years ago starting to spring forth. AppleFest poised to become a really fantastic event, Permaculture Lethbridge (formerly Urban Farmers) finding its place as a creator of gardens and the ecovillage project rebranded as the Agrihood Project, beginning to take root.
All this, with that feeling one has when “the baby” grows up. This baby has not only grown up, it’s now running a brisk jog! I have gratitude for being able to witness this wonderful unfolding of a great organization, one that has relevance and meaning for the 21st century. One that is key to our transition towards a civilization that nurtures the planet.
April 4th Rocket Mass Heaters
When disconnecting from the grid one of the most important issues we need to deal with is ‘how do we heat ourselves in an environmentally sustainable way when it’s minus 40 outside?’
Our present technologies have all been too polluting - oil, wood and yes, even natural gas (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/423661/just-how-green-is-natural-gas/).
One of the best alternates we’ve found is passive solar design combined with huge amounts of insulation. But this has two major drawbacks. First, we would have to rebuild all of our homes. Very impractical and costly from both an ecological and a financial point of view. Second, we may hold heat for a long time but given heat loss from merely opening the door there would still need to be some heat input over a winter's night.
I find the most practical solution to our “crisis of heat” is a rocket mass heater. After burning wood for hundreds of thousands of years we’ve learned a few things. Rocket mass heaters use 20th century technology to produce heat, substantially reduce the air pollution and yes save our resources (including our forests!) in the process. A tall order but something worth looking into right?
The rocket mass heater has a burn chamber unlike anything you see in today's commercially available wood heaters. It has specific ratios of the length of the burn chamber, the feed tube and the exhaust portion that creates a draft which brings the burn process to such a high temperature that 99.99% of the particulate matter is burned. In other words, you seldom have to clean out the ash. And as it’s burning the heat from the core of the rocket mass heater goes through a length of metal pipe which like any fireplace sends the exhaust outside. With a RMH that exhaust is only a few degrees above room temperature meaning that all that heat was released between the burn chamber and the exhaust end.
This when combined with a thermal mass creates a heat system that soaks up, then releases heat slowly over time. The thermal mass most commonly used is cob (aka adobe aka clay). Since clay is basically everywhere this part is very inexpensive. Aside from it’s easy availability clay can be formed to any shape you like.
So it works like this; build your RMH core, connect the metal exhaust pipes, run those pipes through a mass of cob before exhausting out the flue. So when operational the heat moving through the pipe will transfer through to the cob. The cob, in the form of a bed or seating area provides an excellent medium to capture and slowly release that heat.
Voila! A heat source that emits minimal pollution, uses resources in an efficient way (1/3rd that of regular wood stoves), can be built by anyone on a limited budget, can act as a truly warm bed in winter and can be retrofitted to existing homes. Who needs high tech to be sustainable?
Gilles Leclair is the founder of GeoStudios. Somewhat eccentric, fairly environmentalist, politically aware, he believes the world should have more off-grid communities... many more.