Making Way for the Future: An Interview with Mark Dixon

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Mark Dixon

Mark Dixon is one of the principles and one of the producers of YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip. As a Pittsburgher, he talks a little bit about his view of the area, what he’s doing to support the future, and some of what you can do, too.

Information follows about Mark Dixon from his interview. Further information not published here about the Thomas Merton Center, the New Economy Mapping Project, and his interview can be found in the Spring 2014 issue of Bridge To Light magazine.

MD: My wife and I have an interest in building an Earthship in Pittsburgh. One of our biggest concerns is that if we put down some money on a property or on a piece of land, what assurance do we have that they are not going to just frack right next door?

We were trying to recruit a family member to the area. They wanted to put down some money and purchase a house. They wanted to know how we know nobody’s going to be fracking nearby. [Since that conversation] Pittsburgh has passed an ordinance preventing fracking but at that time there was no guarantee that they weren’t just going to do it, that the mayor wasn’t going to overturn it, or who knows what. Our answer wasn’t good enough. They moved somewhere else.

They chose not to live in Pittsburgh because how can you invest as a young person in a place you want to live for a long time when there is a perpetual threat of devastating toxic invasion from someone who doesn’t give a damn about your health?

DCHP: It’s interesting to think about healthcare in those terms. People are not valued. The community is not valued. So if someone is not working or not working as much, of course they are not going to get the healthcare because they don’t matter.

MD: They don’t matter as a human, yeah. You call up your corporation and say, “But I’m dying.”

They’re going to say, “Sorry. You didn’t pay your bill. Now you die.” Or, “Sorry. I don’t have power. I’d have to check with my manager to save your life.”

The manager says, “No.” because his or her benefits package is dependent on him or her telling a certain number of people “no.”

Where did that come from? It came from a perception of scarcity in their own life, of fear in their own life. With the systems that we’re in, it’s hard to say, “Well, I don’t need to earn money for a living. I’m just going to rely on the good will of other people and figure it out.

You’ve got to lean hard on providence to go into the space of, “I’m just going to drop all that monetary stuff and go live. Just live off the grid and go beg for my food and beg for my healthcare if I need it.”

DCHP: Well, if you can afford to build a house and you choose to build an Earthship, it’ll feed you.

MD: Some. Not enough to live.

DCHP: Mike Reynolds [the architect who invented Earthships] has gone on record saying that a family of four living in an Earthship doesn’t ever have to shop for groceries because the Earthship will feed them.

MD: That’d be great. If he’s on record and it’s possible, I want to learn how to make my Earthship do that, whenever I have an Earthship!

I know that it has the capacity to grow a lot of food. I’m just not banking on it growing all the food. I’d love to be able to grow kiwis and avocados and lemons in Pittsburgh, in my bare feet. How cool would that be?

Earthships are warm inside with no fossil fuels. So I don’t have to look at my child and say, “Turn down the heat, son. You need to be a little colder because we’re trying to provide for you in your future.” No!

[How much better would it be to say,] “We just did it a little bit differently and now you can go bare foot all winter long and nobody is worse off. We just did things a little smarter.”

Instead, we’ve been handed a legacy of stupid houses that require dumb furnaces burning old, dead things just so you stay warm enough so you don’t die in them.

How tragic is that?

DCHP: How do you envision balancing corporate rights with individual rights?

MD: Have you heard about the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund?


MD: CELDF. They’re the organization behind the ordinance in Pittsburgh that says, “No fracking in Pittsburgh.” The ban on fracking. They have developed the legal foundation for that ordinance. It’s a confrontational ordinance in that it confronts established case law. I don’t know the details of all of this but the CELDF is all about developing municipal, local, national ordinances, constitutions, and legal documentation that confronts established case law because they believe and teach that the deck is stacked against us as citizens and as nature.

Corporations have been putting the full court press against our legal structure and basically plaquing up the arteries of the legal system in their favor. The funny thing about the legal system is that it doesn’t forget easily. So if you apply some legal precedent, bam! You are good to go.

That holds true until a revolution happens and the legal precedent is overturned by some dramatic confrontational thing. The legal system is not built to change and shift dynamically. [Certainly not as] dynamically as we [need it] to [change] to address the resource issues that we are facing today.

If there is a tendency in the law, it is to bend in the direction the wind is blowing in. When you have a corporate infrastructure that recognizes the value of law over the long haul and has budget to apply that wind, that pressure, over the long haul, to pay lawyers and lobbyists to apply that pressure over the long haul [it tends to change things.]

When corporations have the profits to pay those people through inane legal cycles that average human beings just can’t bear – they’re paying people to handle the inanity, the insanity, of that legal structure. If you pay people well enough, they can push things through over the long haul. Also, if you make sure that things get funded in their state and people get the jobs they want and that sort of thing, then suddenly the votes go in your favor.

When you’ve got ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) building laws that they test in one state and then roll out across the country en masse that shifts laws in favor of corporate power, I think that if anything, that indicates the snowballing effect of corporate influence. It shows the waning influence of organized labor, for instance.

While not entirely pure and pristine in its motivations all the time and not necessarily offering the most enlightened response to resource constraints and climate change, they did provide a balance of power to a degree to give a little more power to the people in the face of advancing corporate profits.

But you’ve seen some serious unleashing of corporate ability in the last twenty or thirty years. I think since the start of the Reagan administration, [things like] deregulation – all sorts of things got put into place to lay the foundation for an unleashing of corporate influence. When you see legislation in favor of corporations in radical ways, I see that as the natural outcome of that snowballing.

It’s so complicated that you can tell that story in 50 different ways and find 50 different trends in that, but that’s one thread that seems to resonate strongly with me, recognizing fully that there are probably 5 other threads that would resonate strongly with me and probably 50 other threads that actually have some merit.

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”Making Way for the Future: An Interview with Mark Dixon” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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