Season two’s second episode finishes up with a look at Robert Earl & his wife Debbie.
Like Kevin O’Brien from last season, they’ve fled from Florida to escape rising sea levels, but they attribute it to the “collapse of the Greenland ice sheet” which is pretty specific. However, while O’Brien bought land in the green hills of Tennessee, the Earls move to the high desert of Texas. So, going from too much water to not enough. I’m not sure that an especially arid-looking part of TX is the best place, but we’ll see.
Robert describes himself as a combination of Mad Max (desert remoteness), Rube Goldberg (whimsical building solutions), and Al Gore (climate warnings!). This really comes across when he starts showing off his construction project: using glass bottles, tires, and plastic boxes, Robert is building some kind of earthship, which is smart: sunny, arid locations are ideal locations for earthships and similar alternative-type buildings (see noted barefoot survival teacher Cody Lundin’s sweet offgrid, passive-solar setup in Arizona:
Bottle walls are a pillar of permaculture building practices, making use of what would normally be trash to make funky houses with lots of thermal mass for carbon-free heating. As Robert says (displaying a healthy and necessary forward-thinking attitude), when things go south, “garbage won’t be garbage, it’ll be opportunity.”
Of course, Robert has decided to put off building their actual house until he finishes the smokehouse, so he can at least make jerky…out of any invading marauders! Haha. As for other things to eat, he proudly shows off his…wait for it…“poop garden”. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a big subscriber to the idea of ‘humanure’ (you can download a copy of the Humanure Handbook in my Reading Materials page ^). But the way he does it is just unhealthy: it seems he just pours a slurry of raw sewage into an underground pipe, and then plants his garden above it. Without balancing all that pure nitrogen with some carbon, he’s eventually going to cook his soil’s fertility, not to mention the fact he’s not doing anything about pathogens.
In a proper humanure setup, after each visit to the head, a scoop of cheap carbon-rich material (sawdust, peat moss, rice hulls &c.) is sprinkled onto the nitrogen-rich ‘human waste’ just like in a proper food-waste composting setup; the balanced carbon and nitrogen heat up—killing any microorganisms—and after six months or so break down into rich, crumbly garden food. Super easy to diy, and uses no water—an important consideration in the desert.
In fact, this couple’s water-gathering routine looks pretty unreliable—they’re shown sucking up water from what looks like an overgrown puddle. Robert needs to hook up some rain barrels to collect what little water is going to fall throughout the year. Where’s the moisture vaporator when you need it?
Because it looks like he’s relying solely on their little garden for food, Robert gets a visit from Kat Stevens, rattlesnake hunter, to teach him to catch and eat rattlers. I’m a fan of wild game, but I swear I heard the narrator say something about the Earls having 21 dogs. Robert shouldn’t worry about risking life and limb to find some scaly meat-tubes when they have that many four-legged protein sources running around. Hell, certain breeds—Chihuahuas come to mind—were designed to be eaten! They’re like, double-duty pets!
The experts give them 63 points, for 9 months’ initial survival time. Unfortunately there’s no after-filming update, which is too bad, because I would’ve liked to see how their bottle house was coming along.