I have never felt so righteous about flushing.
At most eco-lodgings, I experience a pinch of guilt over pressing the handle, worried that I am loosening the stopper on our finite water reserves. That’s not the case at the Greater World Community near Taos, N.M. The world’s largest off-the-grid subdivision considers the toilet a friend of Mother Earth. The blackwater from the bowl hydrates the yards of its 70 residences, including several rental properties available to overnight visitors. If you see a tropical bloom in the New Mexico desert, you can lay your thank-you flowers before the porcelain throne.
“It’s just simple homesteading stuff,” said Ryan Halpin, who works in Earthship Biotecture’s rental division and is building a Bachelorship for himself. “It’s a conscientious lifestyle.”
“You are the power company, the water company, the sewage-treatment plant and the food production,” Ryan said. “You control a lot of your life, instead of relying on others.”
Earthships embody a string of self-hyphenates: -sufficient, -reliant, -sustaining, -empowering. (The “ship” in the company’s name represents the concept of autonomy.) Reynolds’s blueprints rely heavily on nature’s resources and humankind’s drinking and driving habits. He uses discarded tires packed with dirt for the exterior walls and recycled bottles and cans for the interior structures. Buried cisterns collect melted snow and rain; the filtered water flows through sinks in the bathroom and kitchen. Instead of air conditioning, the walls absorb the heat, and knee-high vents expel cool air from subterranean depths. In the winter, the structure emits the stored toastiness like a space heater. No doubt, a weatherman reporting from inside the Taos community would grow bored: Today, like yesterday, and tomorrow, will be a pleasant 72 degrees.
From the road, Earthship Biotecture resembles Tatooine, with a few alterations: lizards instead of krayt dragons, for instance, and Priuses in place of Jawa sandcrawlers. Most of the adobe houses are built low and are camouflaged by the 630 acres of khaki-colored terrain.
“People don’t have to majorly change their lifestyle to live sustainably and off-grid.”