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A Village to Reinvent the World

Written by Alan Weisman Reviewed by Richard Perez

Gaviotas is a book that will make your soul sing. It is an incredible—but true—chronicle of doing the impossible.

Gaviotas is a remote village in Colombia that has reversed the ill effects of technology and deforestation. In the middle of the most inhospitable place imaginable, they have made their environment flower. The people who live in this unintentional community are reinventing their world with virtually no outside help.

Gaviotas is a village located in the barren savannahs, called llanos, of eastern Colombia. In 1971, a Colombian visionary, Paulo Lugari, started this community in a place which everyone considered uninhabitable. The land would not support agriculture or animal husbandry. The area was (and still is) smack dab in the middle of a guerrilla war between Colombia's government and a variety of revolutionary groups, both left and right. In this area, there are no real roads, no bodies of potable water, and no electricity. It's hard to imagine a more difficult task than establishing a village in the llanos of eastern Colombia. But build this village the Gaviotans did, and in doing so they triumphed.

If this was just a story of living in an impossible place, it would be interesting, but it would not be so important. The real story here is how the Gaviotans overcame the llanos, the guerillas, and the government—and by doing so, how they made their village a model for all of us to follow.

The Gaviotans are masters of appropriate technology. They made their environment inhabitable by developing new agricultural and energy technologies. They did all this on site with their own ideas, designs, and energy. They invented and built new water pumps, specialized wind generators which function in the llano's light winds, and solar water distillers and water heaters which function in their cloudy climate. There seems to be no limit to their mastery of homebrewed technology. However, the most important aspect of their accomplishments is not their new machines, but their agriculture.

The Gaviotans are growing new trees and plants in an area that was written off as an ecological disaster area, on the verge of becoming a desert. Through their novel and homegrown agricultural techniques, they have been able to reverse the deforestation which is taking place all over South America. What's more, they've done this all on their own.

While the new energy technologies the Gaviotans have developed are sure to interest Home Power readers, the most important lesson that they have for us is their spirit. They don't know the meaning of impossible. Alan Weisman brings this indomitable spirt to life in his book. Read it and this spirit will come to live in your heart as it has in mine.


Reviewer: Richard Perez, Home Power, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520 • 530-475-3179 Fax: 530-475-0836 • [email protected] Web: www.homepower.com

Gaviotas—A Village to Reinvent the World, by Alan Weisman, 227 pages hardcover, ISBN# 0-930031-95-4 • US$22.95, CAN$32.95, UK£15.50

Publisher of Gaviotas: Chelsea Green Publishing, PO Box 428, White River Junction, VT 05001 802-295-6300 • Fax: 802-295-6444 Web: www.chelseagreen.com

From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank

Written by Joshua Tickell, Edited by Kaia Tickell Reviewed by Kelly Larson

From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: How to Make Cheap, Clean Fuel from Free Vegetable Oil is a great primer on the how-tos and whys of biodiesel. These folks have driven over 25,000 miles in a van run on homemade fuel!

The first chapters are an excellent primer on petroleum, the greenhouse effect, and how biodiesel can solve both of these problems. Biodiesel uses the sun's energy instead of dead dinosaurs. The fact that widespread biodiesel use could actually reverse global warming is enough reason for me to consider cookin' some up.

A little diesel history lesson gives us the background to appreciate the scam the petroleum industry has pulled on us. Did you know that the diesel engine was designed to run on peanut oil, and that "diesel fuel" is actually a poor replacement for the diesel's original fuel? Biodiesel is much cleaner than petroleum diesel, runs in unmodified diesel engines, and can be mixed with petroleum diesel in any proportion. Biodiesel is non-toxic, biodegradable, renewable, and less likely to explode and burn. Best of all, it can be made by you, cheaply! When the Veggie Van visited my town, I could hardly wait to sniff the exhaust. Sure enough—it smelled like french fries.

Many Home Power readers use generators in the cloudy months. Inversion layers in our small pristine valleys hold in any pollutants we emit. Biodiesel can improve air quality in several ways. The exhaust contains no sulfur emissions. Carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions are cut by 20 to 60%, and soot particulates (which send asthmatics to the hospital) are reduced by 40 to 60%!

To make the stuff yourself, turn to chapter five. Step by step, the reader is taken through the process of biodiesel production. The Tickells do it right—they make safety a number one priority. The necessary tools aren't intimidating, either. They include a scale, a blender, goggles, gloves, and some glassware. Even a chemistry wimp like me could follow the clear descriptions. And there are oodles of references, backing up claims and steering biodiesel students to more information.

The section on "Gretta," the greasy Jetta, is a crack-up. Who would imagine a diesel car could run on straight unprocessed fryer oil? I'm no mechanic, and even I was able to follow the simplified description of the diesel engine's inner workings. This book made me feel that anyone can do it. And if you decide biodiesel processing isn't for you, the Veggie Van web site can help you find suppliers of the fuel.

Simply put, I'm sold on biodiesel as a result of reading this book. It's an easy read—I got through it from cover to cover in three hours. You can get the book directly from the Tickells at GreenTeach Publishing. Better yet, call your local RE dealer and have them get it for you (and spread the word at the same time).


Reviewer: Kelly Larson, Alternative Energy Engineering, PO Box 339, Redway, CA 95560 707-923-2277, ext 126 • Fax: 707-923-3009 Attn: Kelly [email protected]

From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: How to Make Cheap, Clean Fuel From Free Vegetable Oil, by Joshua Tickell, edited by Kaia Tickell, 1998. GreenTeach Publishing: Sarasota, FL. ISBN 0-9664616-0-6, 87 pages, 8 1/2 by 11 inches paperback, $19.95

Available from:

GreenTeach, Josh and Kaia Tickell, Founders and Directors, 15 Paradise Plaza, Suite 311, Sarasota, FL 34239 • 813-354-2377 • [email protected] Web: www.veggievan.org

Alternative Energy Engineering, PO Box 339, Redway, CA 95560 • 800-777-6609 • Fax: 800-800-0624 [email protected] • Web: www.alt-energy.com

Bookmasters, PO Box 388, Ashland, OH 44805 800-266-5564 • 419-281-1802 • Fax: 419-281-6883 [email protected] • Web: www.bookmasters.com


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