Thank you Warren Brush and David Eisenberg. Straw is not only “an ideal building material” for scientific and technological reasons, but it can provide the basis for building “SAFE Homes™” – Sustainable, Affordable, Future-proofed and Energy efficient – throughout America, and especially in the earthquake prone Third World. Think Pakistan, Haiti and Chile. But also think American Indian reservations beyond the few with successful gaming operations, where the chronic poverty, life expectancy and sub-standard housing conditions fall just behind those which the world is trying to address in rebuilding Haiti.
Many American Indian reservations, where Tribes with up to 40,000 years of “green economies” in North America under their belts, are now plagued with a severe shortage of healthy, affordable housing, massive chronic unemployment and extremely young (median age under 19) and rapidly growing populations. These conditions mirror the plight of Third World communities right here in America, where four of the top 5 poorest counties in America are located in South Dakota, and include the Crow Creek, Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Indian reservations found in the heart of the wheat belt on the northern Great Plains.
With a dire housing need for over a quarter of a million new homes in Indian Country generally, this natural building technology is ecologically appropriate but labor-intensive. The Indian word for that is “jobs”. This homegrown construction technology, invented in western Nebraska in the 1880s, can provide reservation based American Indian youth, who today suffer suicide rates 2.5 times the national average, with skilled and meaningful jobs for an entire generation in the building of ecologically compatible, quality homes that sequester atmospheric carbon, avoid burning coal, reduce energy bills, save water and better prepare rural communities to be more resilient in the face of the more frequent, record-setting weather extremes predicted under climate change and the “natural disasters” actually experienced again this past winter.
The Intertribal Council On Utility Policy (IntertribalCOUP.org) recognizes that living on an Indian reservation in the U.S. you are 10 times more likely not to have electricity than anywhere else in America. And if you do have electricity, it is likely to be predominately coal based and you are paying a far greater portion of your household income for it. Under these circumstances, a well-insulated, passive solar home, being “smart” without any more gadgetry than necessary, built with local labor from natural local materials, like straw bales and earth, can be the most intelligent active choice we can make for affordable passive sustainability and enhanced quality of life!
Straw bale homes can help insulate vulnerable tribal communities throughout the drought stricken west from accelerating energy costs and the increasingly life-threatening weather extremes forecasted for the region. There may also be elegant applications of this technology in Alaska, where the Corps of Engineers has estimated that nearly 200 native villages, on the front line of global warming, will need to be relocated in the coming decade due to ongoing coastal and river erosion and the melting of ancient permafrost.
Through the course of human history, the construction, maintenance and operation of our buildings have had the greatest energy related impact on our environment than all other human activities, including wars, water access and delivery and transportation infrastructure construction and use. The fine art of turning an agricultural waste product into a energy saving wall system can have widespread benefits for the world’s neediest grass-roots communities and the planet, from the ground up.
All Hail Straw Bale, the Great All-American Insulator!
Bob Gough, Secretary
Rosebud, South Dakota