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Challenging the status quo, a force seemingly stronger than gravity

Merle with bricks for Kerala house

As I immerse myself in the stories of you, my global sisters, one reality predominates: how things are arranged (or deranged) in our respective lives is a powerful deterrent to change. My area of focus is stimulating perception and action in relation to better use of energy in the built environment and I operate in both North America and India. Access to relatively cheap energy in North America and the desire for increased energy in India forces issues of energy conservation, use of renewable energy, and a more sustainably styled mode of life into low priority.

The capitalist mindset of bigger-better-faster-newer-disposable-instant dominates North America as an overdeveloped country relating to resource use and India as still predominantly a less overdeveloped country, but striving for Western ways of modernity. Unfortunately, citizens in both societies take the capitalist progressive trajectory as gospel and fail to weigh its merits based on the realities of a planet with limited resources and a growing population. Capitalist consumption has no conception of endgame unless there is quiet acceptance of mass die-off of human beings and other species as part of resource and lifestyle maintenance for a favored and ruthless few.

I can’t seem to muster much in the way of a daily dose of laughter in the midst of the reality I’ve outlined above. However, I’ve at least worked at whittling out a life that embodies much of what I believe has to occur if human (and other) life is to continue with any degree of happiness, equity, and stability on this spinning orb. For over five years now I’ve been alternating between North America and India building, presenting, publishing, and supporting the efforts of others to create smaller, resource-sensitive houses. I’m devoting time, energy, and funds to make this happen. Instead of waiting for governments or other large entities to act, I live what anthropologist Margaret Mead most famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” So I advocate for and attempt to live a smaller, more sustainable mode of life each day and encourage others to do the same.

These PulseWire assignments are speeding us through the process of self-awareness and self-revelation and onward into realms of communication and empowering community. We’re being encouraged to delve into and then stretch beyond ourselves with knowledge from our experience and our dreams to strengthen both ourselves and our global sisters. PulseWire offers powerful opportunities for challenging the strength of the status quo as well as enhancing the initiatives we’re already enacting to create positive solutions in our societies.

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Hi Mekindred!

I am your Listener for Week 3. I really enjoyed reading your article. I traveled to India last year, and was blown away by the ways in which ancient culture and contemporary Western values intersect. I was reminded of Thomas Friedman's book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, where he describes the environmental toll the adoption of North American cheap energy values is exacting on the Chinese landscape.

During my trip, I was also struck by how critical we N. Americans can be of India's traffic, litter, and pollution. Given our current patterns of consumption, I suspect that if we had India's population, size, typography, and social structure, our continent wouldn't look much different--especially if our shift to "bigger-better-faster-newer-disposable-instant" had taken place in such an abbreviated period of time as it did in India. Actually, it would probably be a whole lot worse, because we wouldn't have India's vivid colors, exquisite patterns, glittering saris, or lovely painted elephants ;-)

I would have loved to hear more about the "resource-sensitive" houses you help build and the places you work in India. I see from your picture that you were in Kerala--do you work primarily in south India? I know you only had 500 words. But I am so inspired by your solution that I want to hear more about how it has been per-/re-ceived, in both North American and India!

Thanks for writing!
Ruth

"A writer’s job is to tell stories that connect readers to all the people on earth... Passionate and well-articulated ideas can and do change the world." ~~Mary Pipher

Ruth, thanks for your attention to my submissions and detailed response relating to India. You're most observant about the clash of East & West in the country and the trash situation certainly signifies the situation. The West (esp. the US) has to sell its lifestyle to keep afloat and what's unsustainable here is even more so in countries struggling to achieve the American Dream. I've been in and out of India since 2004 and have spent a good portion of each year since 2007 serving as a communications consultant (pro bono) with the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD). I've helped them establish a website this past spring at www.costford.com. The site tells the history of Master Architect Laurie Baker (1917-2007), the inception & mission of COSTFORD, and shows examples of the range of buildings it designs and constructs using a blend of indigenous knowledge and materials plus appropriate modern technology. I commissioned a home that was completed in 2009 and my Malayali "family of friends" lives in it permanently while I come and go. I'm helping COSTFORD get more international recognition and have helped launch the Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies. We also have plans for a book on Baker's life and work. I leave for Kerala in early November for up to 6 months. There's growing interest in both India and the West about what we're doing in Kerala. Again, thanks so much for asking about our work! I've had several contacts from Indian women on PulseWire asking about my involvement, too, which is heartening. All the b(l)est to you in your life and work! +++Merle

+++Merle

Singmila Shimrah's picture

Hello mekindred Are you

Hello mekindred

Are you building resource sensitive houses in rural areas of India or urban areas? eager to know, seems very interesting, I would like to know more about it and it can help others to adopt the same. Are you affiliated with any organization, if yes, which one? it would be great to know. I am in India and i also work in development sector. we are looking forward to know more about publishing and presenting related to resource sensitive houses, it would be good learning for us..

Thanks for your dedication!

Singmi

mekindred's picture

COSTFORD in Kerala

Singmi, thanks for your query. I do pro bono consultancy with an NGO in Kerala: the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD) with 13 centres in Kerala. The history and work of COSTFORD is explained in the new website we launched this spring: www.costford.com. COSTFORD operates as an NGO and designs and builds all kinds of buildings both in urban and rural areas. It's primary goal is housing the poor, but it engages in a wide range of building types. I spend several months each year assisting COSTFORD become more known internationally as a model of building strategies using local materials and time-honored design and construction strategies along with appropriate modern technology. COSTFORD also has a continual stream of architectural interns and these folks are now spread all over India trying to assist in creating appropriate architecture for the subcontinent instead of the generic glass/concrete/steel buildings common in the West and hugely unsustainable in India. I hope this helps give you useful information about this most interesting work in Kerala. All the b(l)est in your work!

+++Merle

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