An Update on Mother's Environmental Research Center

Learn how MOTHER's environmental research center is doing and how researchers are testing "miracle building plastics."
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1977
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MOTHER EARTH NEWS researchers have led the way in environmental experiments, and are now testing "miracle building plastics."
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/LUNAMARINA


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It doesn't look like much ... just a chocolate-brown lump of a waxy, nondescript "something" that isn't exactly a fiberboard, or a plastic, or adobe, or concrete.

But it is "dirt cheap" to manufacture with very low-technology equipment and — in some respects — it's a near-dream to work with: It can be molded into almost any shape ... it's easily sawed, drilled, and nailed ... and it's fireproof, and waterproof, and has rather exceptional insulating qualities.

What it is is just one of almost 100 formulations that MOTHER's researchers have so far tested in their effort to find out — once and for all — whether or not there's anything to the "miracle building plastics" so widely advertised in the mechanics magazines from the late 20's into the mid-50's.

Our tests so far have been encouraging. It really may be possible to combine "worthless" clay, "waste" paper, and a few other ingredients into a homemade building material that's easy to work, and exceptionally inexpensive, and which will stand for 200 years.

Notice, however, that we say "may." Our experiments have just begun, they're still in the preliminary stage, and we have a great deal of work ahead of us before we'll really know just how good (or bad) our do-it-yourself "miracle" construction materials actually are. Stand by. Be patient. We're proceeding as rapidly as we can with the resources we have to work with. Research like this takes time ... and energy ... and equipment ... and talent ... and money ... and, above all, time.

And that reminds us of a letter we received from someone the other day ... a letter mildly taking us to task and asking what had happened to the Research Center we used to talk about in MOTHER's pages.

Well, we're still plugging away on that one and we still believe that — before too long — we'll finally be able to put together enough money to buy a chunk of land and start the construction of a self-contained, energy self-sufficient, food self-sufficient pedestrian community of the future.

But that's a lot easier to say than to do. We're talking about a very large and a very complicated undertaking. And a very expensive one too: expensive in money, time, talent, planning, equipment, coordination ... and sheer grit and determination.

And that, of course, is exactly why no one else — from the federal government on down — has ever been foolish enough to tackle the founding and the construction and the successful operation of a community like the one we envision. And that's also exactly why the founding and the construction and the successful operation of such an eco-community is so vitally important ... and why it grows even more important every day.

Whether you've chosen to believe it yet or not, the world is already terribly overpopulated and all the most easily exploited natural resources of the planet have already been gouged out of the earth and used. The free and easy petroleum-fueled boom that we've been riding up and Up and UP for the past few decades is now topping out ... at just the same time that the "printing press" financial establishments of all the planet's industrialized nations are running out of steam ... and at the precise moment in history that many of the underdeveloped countries of the world have decided that they, too, are entitled to everything that their more advanced brothers have, and then some.

Someone is going to have to pioneer a whole new way — a low-technology, non-energy-intensive way — for all of us to live and organize our communities, and fast ... or those three trends outlined in that last paragraph are flat going to tear this planet apart and plunge it into the Granddaddy of all Dark Ages sooner than you probably can imagine. Someone, or something, is going to have to come up with some answers. And they'll have to do it fast.  

Now, it is ridiculous for one still-small and still-relatively-unimportant publication — a publication founded only seven years ago on the tiniest-of-tiny (for this business) $1,500 shoestrings — to talk about developing the environmentally oriented, self-sufficient community we've been dreaming about almost since the day the first issue of MOTHER was published.

But then again, maybe it's not so ridiculous after all. When our first issues featured articles about "going back to the land and back to basics" ... this magazine was vilified by self-proclaimed "street people" who said that our authors were "copping out" on the more important questions of our time. Yet many of the same people who vilified us back in 1970 and 197 ... have now left the cities themselves and are among MOTHER's strongest supporters.

Even many of the "environmentalists" of the day laughed at us when MOTHER ran serious articles about solar, wind, and methane power a half decade ago. Yet NASA and uncounted other government agencies are now funding hundreds — if not thousands — of solar, wind, and methane projects (a great number of which do nothing but duplicate our "ridiculous" experiments of five or six years ago) in all parts of the country.

Detroit engineers smirked at us three years ago when we said we thought it was possible to develop an automobile that would get 54 miles per gallon of regular gasoline ... but at least one Japanese company is now selling a little car right here in the United States which does exactly that.

Yes, we've been ridiculed and laughed at and our judgment has been questioned more than once since we launched this magazine back in 1970. But time, so far, has proven us right on every major stand we've taken since then. And time, we've learned, is the most valuable tool that you have to work with when you never have enough money, equipment, contacts, and talent on hand to accomplish the work that you want to get done.

And that's why, although we haven't yet even come up with the money to purchase the land we'll need for it, we're still talking about building and living in an "energy self-sufficient, food self-sufficient eco-community of the future". And that's also why we're currently experimenting with a rather "ridiculous" building material that's mostly clay and waste paper and a few inexpensive and widely available stabilizers and chemicals.

That funny chocolate-brown lump of nondescript "something" we've been playing with may — just may — be the major material that we'll use in the construction of that community of the future.


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