I was watching a story on The Science Channel last night, about a place I’d heard of before. An architect designed a community (rather like a commune), which IIRC is near Tucson. Could be wrong about the location, though. It was designed to be self-supporting and efficient. Cars are not allowed, the community grows much of its own food, chickens are used to get rid of insects in the compost instead of using chemicals, etc. Parts of the community are underground.
That got me to thinking about the efficiency of a desert environment, as opposed to other environments.
[ul][li]Solar and wind energies are abundant[/li][li]Building rooms below the surface maintains comfortable temperatures in them[/li][li]Given enough water, many edible and useful crops can be grown[/ul][/li]First, energy: When I lived in the Mojave Desert, we cooled our normal house with a ‘swamp cooler’ (an evaporative cooler). The cost was very low compared to refrigerated air, though it did raise the humidity in the house and it required periodic cleaning of the water delivery system. Aircraft designer Burt Rutan designed, built, and lived in (I assume he still lives in) a house that is largely underground, features composite construction like his airplanes (lots of foam), and uses a heat pump to maintain comfortable temperatures. From what I’ve heard, it’s very efficient.
By contrast, my house here in the PNW needs only fans to keep it cool in the hottest part of summer. On the other hand, winter is very cold and requires the expenditure of hundreds of gallons of expensive propane to heat. But then, my house, built in 1934 and designed mostly for summer use, is not very efficient.
One thing that cannot be counted on in these northern climes is reliable ‘green’ energy. Clouds cover the sun very often. Winds are not very strong. Energy needs to be made the olf-fashioned way for the most part. Sun and wind are almost always available in deserts.
Next, home construction. No matter where you live, I’m sure that less heating and cooling energy will be used if you build partially underground. The earth is a good insulator. Up here, there’s water all over the place. Water collects under houses. If you don’t live on the crest of a hill as I do, how do you exclude water from a basement; let alone build most of your house underground? The desert also gets water. It’s very easy to see where it goes, when viewed from the air. But it’s very much easier to find a ‘dry spot’ in which to dig. It seems to me that fewer resources are needed to build an efficient house in the desert.
Then there is water. That’s one thing we have a lot of. It’s harder to come by in the desert, but it’s there. My grandparent’s place in Oregon had a spring. In the desert, you have to dig for it. My dad grew strawberries, tomatoes and peaches in his back yard. He also had luxuirious – wnd water-inefficient – lawns. There are lots of farms and orchards (mostly almond orchards) in the Antelope Valley (never saw an antelope there, though). Things grow well, given the water.
But you don’t need that much. My mom’s house in Phoenix was ‘xeriscaped’. Native or semi-native plants were featured, and the ‘lawn’ was attractive gravel. Her back yard had a grapefruit tree (sweetest grapefruits I’ve ever eaten!), tangerines, and various cacti. The prickly pear cacti have edible fruit, and the pads are also edible (sold as nopalito). The aloe vera have medicinal properties. There was a drip irrigation system that used very little water.
Back to the architects commune: The structure was built on a bluff, which frees the flat land below for farming. The rain that falls naturally flows onto the flats. Given intelligent planning, wells, and efficient irrigation systems, it seems to me that the desert is a logical place to live.
Getting away from the practicality of living in a desert compared to living in a wet place, the desert has equal charms to just about anywhere else you can imagine. For one thing, there is space. Lots of space. Many is the time I’ve gone to a high place in the desert and just… looked. I’ve mentioned in other threads that many people see deserts as drab and boring, and that that there is an amazing amount of diversity and colour for anyone who takes the time to look. Stargazing is spectacular. Away from large cities, there is less light pollution. And again, the skies are usually clear. Do you like to fly? Most days are excellent. Even on windy days (but not too windy!) the wind is generally steady and from a predictable direction. Cars are not as rust-prone (although the paint will suffer) as the climate is dry and salt is not used on the roads.
But it’s hot. I think I’ve made it quite clear in other threads over the years that I don’t like hot. But heat is different in the desert than it is in Los Angeles. It’s bearable. Maybe it’s the 20-knot (or more) wind that evaporates your sweat that does it. Maybe it’s just that ‘dry heat’ is more bearable than humid heat. Maybe the harsh environment, in its beauty, simply makes you forget the heat. I know that – heat-wise – I was more comfortable in the desert than I was in the L.A. summer; even though it was twenty degrees or so hotter. Some people might have issues with the abundant black widow spiders and the occasional rattlesnake though. (I never saw a rattlesnake in the 11 years I lived in the desert.)