Greener pastures 

As the globe warms, there’s no place like dome

Seth Pogue is planning to survive a worst-case scenario version of the future, one where global warming and mass energy consumption have led to catastrophic weather, the collapse of interstate travel, and an engrossing panic as people are left to fend for themselves.

He’s not doing this out of tinfoil-hat paranoia, but because, he says, “Even if we change our ways and stop global warming and things normalize, what harm will it do?”

“We really need a new paradigm. This country––five percent of the world’s population––is using 25 percent of the resources,” he says. “We’re incredibly wasteful with our resources. It’s been a party since the industrial revolution.”

Pogue, a Humboldt State University alum with a bachelor’s degree in biology, is the Executive Director of Missoula-based anti-global warming activist group Live Earth Action Resource Network (LEARN), a 20-member non-profit he runs from his apartment. He says anyone with eyes can see the world is in danger, and he’s hoping to do something about it.

He and his group are currently working to make Pogue’s vision a reality. He calls it the Sustainable Interdependent Living Community (SILC).

SILC, in theory, would be a self-sustainable community powered by solar energy that would feature a homeopathic medical facility, an organic garden maintained by residents, solar heated water and, most interesting of all, 12 monolithic domes providing residential housing for interns and artists, encircling a separate two-story dome community center.

Monolithic domes are highly insulated, polyurethane coated, steel-reinforced concrete structures that resemble large igloos or mounds and, according to Pogue, are much more energy efficient than the “stick houses” most of us live in.

“Look in nature. Nature does not build things in square shapes, but there are plenty of structures that are mound-shaped,” he says. “The ancient, ancient structures tend to have one thing in common: no roofs.”

The Italy, Texas-based Monolithic Dome Institute is the world’s primary builder of monolithic domes. Their specialized designs differ from other dome buildings like the Louisiana Superdome because they’re uninterrupted “hollow rock” structures.

The company’s website claims its domes have stood up to category-5 hurricanes (winds over 156 mph), tornados, lightning and a variety of other natural disasters. All of this is important to Pogue, who believes global warming will lead to more and more extreme weather. He says the recent tornado in Polson was a perfect example, though it should be noted that according to the National Weather Service, tornados have occurred in the area before, the most recent being 12 years ago.

“The best-case scenario is that [SILC is] ahead of its time,” he says.

The worst scenario is societal collapse. Pogue believes climate change could lead to the destruction of coastal refineries. No gas would mean an end to interstate travel, which would mean no food delivered to local stores. A community with its own food production capabilities and dependable shelter could ride it out, Pogue says.

If there’s a drawback to the monolithic dome community he envisions, Pogue says it’s that concrete construction requires energy, and polyurethane is fossil fuel-based.

But, he says, “You’ve got to make a bit of a mess to stay alive.”

As a non-profit group, LEARN doesn’t exactly have endless amounts of cash, which is why Pogue is seeking funding in the neighborhood of $2 million from private donors, grants and, he hopes, corporate sponsorship from “eco-friendly” corporations like Clif Bars, Ben & Jerry’s and Silk Soymilk. To get the initial capital, LEARN held a benefit concert at the Wilma Theater on Wednesday, July 25. The proceeds, Pogue says, will help pay for a grant writer and a brochure he can use to lure investors.

Currently, Pogue says, the group has made a conditional offer through Portico Real Estate for a 50-acre parcel in Frenchtown, about 10 minutes west of Missoula International Airport. Attached to the offer is the contingency that Pogue will sell 270 acres of land he owns on Hughes Creek to raise the money. He’d then sell the land back to LEARN at a fair price, he says. If his wishes come true, and funding becomes available, Pogue says SILC will break ground by 2009.

“It’s not a pipe dream, it’ll get done.”

Of course Pogue’s idea of a survival community is nothing new. At first mention it sounds like an end-times version of hippy communes from the 1960s. But according to Pogue, the key to understanding SILC is the word “interdependency.”

“It’s not going to be a place where someone can just come by and set up a hammock and be taken care of,” he says. It will not be a “hippies skipping through the forest kind of place.” There will be a governing agreement that all members of the community—he’s hoping for about 20, and says he’s presently recruited about 10 he thinks will be a good fit, though he’s not ready to name them—will agree upon beforehand. Residents will be required to work in the kitchen and garden about 20 hours a week, he says.

The idea for a communal pre-nup came from Pogue’s research into eco-communities, most of which he says fail because they’re not set up to handle inevitable disagreements, or are based on the idea that everyone will contribute without question.

If Pogue’s idea seems unlikely, he’s fine with that. At least, he says, he’s coming up with ideas.

“The onus of truth falls to global warming disbelievers…I hope they’re right, but what if they’re wrong?”
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