By Mark Boyle | Originally published on The Guardian
Access to land is one of the key obstacles in our path towards true sustainability, and without a radical shift in land policies, a moneyless society will remain what it is today – a philosophical one.
But if you do want to become communally-sufficient and moneyless, you’ll first need access to a piece of land. While this is not a problem in the Hammersmith of William Morris’s News from Nowhere or Thomas More’s Utopia, within today’s society it usually means the land needs to be bought, even if just as a one-off payment to free a piece of enslaved land from the wage economy. But there are exceptions.
In the 1950s, Vinoba Bhave set up a huge movement called Bhoodan (meaning land-gift) in India, to which ordinary landowners donated 5m acres – an area the size of Wales – to be put back into common ownership so that peasants could live and farm on it. While western culture makes such a movement unlikely, it’s never impossible. For example, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Landshare project matches those who have land but need help with it with those who can help but have no access to land. And it’s growing rapidly.
So it is obviously difficult, if not impossible, to currently talk about building a home for free. There are huge issues concerning planning permission and council tax. For planning, campaigner Simon Fairlie’s Chapter 7 has tons of great free advice, and eco building organisations such as Lammas are a huge source of inspiration. For council tax, work activists such as John Harris and Lawful Rebellion provide a fascinating resource to draw on. Council tax is effectively a tax on being alive – many countries, such as Ireland, use other more equitable systems.
Next, you can then think about building your own low-impact dwelling. Theoretically, this can be done for free using human labour and local materials – like the old thatch, stone and wood cottages of pre-industrialised times – or by utilising the masses of stuff we’ve already produced. Here is a short selection of the many options open to you, some of which can be built without costing any money:
Earthships: The brainchild of Michael Reynolds, these are a type of passive solar home, made from recycled and natural local materials. Earthships can be self-sufficient in food, water and energy. They incorporate fantastic design – glass bottles are even used to create stunning lighting effects – making them visually beautiful to boot.
Underground houses: Subterranean homes maximise space in small areas, the excavated materials can be used in the building and they are wind-, fire- and earthquake-resistant. One of the greatest benefits of underground homes is their energy efficiency, as the mass of soil or rock (the geothermal mass) surrounding the house stores heat and insulates the house, keeping it warm in winter and cool in the summer.
Roundhouses: Circular houses, with a frame of wooden posts covered by wattle-and-daub or cordwood panels finished with cob. Their conical roofs are usually either thatched or have a reciprocal frame green roof.
Straw bale homes: Houses built using straw bales to form the walls of the building. In the UK, the bales can be made of wheat, rye or oat straw. They are also naturally well insulated.
Of course, doing all this completely for free is fairly unrealistic today. But even if you choose the relatively upmarket Earthship on a few acres, it at least means you will only have to spend a fraction of your time in the money economy paying the bank back money.