(URTH.ship; TH as in thin)
An environmentally self-sufficient house powered by renewable energy sources and partially made from used tires and recyclable materials. Also: Earthship. adj.
Earthships are already a growing movement in the United States where it is possible to rent them as holiday homes to encourage more people to build them. Estates of hundreds of self-build earthships have been built in New Mexico with names like Dunlopin and Firestone Avenue.
Paul Brown, "The new Skid Row homes built from tyres," The Guardian, July 20, 2002
Now there is something to do with those old car tires: Make a building. No, this is not the recycled postnuclear landscape depicted in the film ''The Road Warriors.'' As architect Michael Reynolds of Taos, N.M., says, old tires provide a strong basic structure for partly sunken solar-efficient houses. ''You simply fill tires with dirt and beat them hard to make structural walls,'' he said. Already about 70 houses in the Taos area have been built following Reynolds' concept. He hopes the number will increase after his how-to book ''Earthship'' is published this spring by the High Mesa Foundation.
"H&G," The San Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 1990
Here's a fairly long citation that does a good job of explaining what earthships are all about:
While some buildings have been recycled as vacation homes, the Earthships of New Mexico are literally built of recycled consumer waste. Drawing on the philosophy that the environment is an element in a building's design, the Earthship community consists of 30 self-sufficient homes with renewable energy sources.
Michael Reynolds, an architect, started Earthship seven years ago on 640 acres of scrubland just outside Taos. The houses are made with earthen mounds and walls constructed from used tires filled with dirt. "It's been a tremendous challenge over the years, getting past the stigma that these materials are generally considered by the public to be garbage," Mr. Reynolds said. Recycled bottles and cans are used as bricks for retaining walls, planters and interior walls. "They have thermal mass," he added. "They keep the temperature comfortable and stable year round," despite 100-degree summers and subzero winters.
Three Earthship units are available for vacationers to rent, beginning at $130 a night or $960 a week. Two of the units are also for sale at $140,000. Information: (505) 751-0462. Each house is self-sustainable. "There are no lines in, and no lines out," Mr. Reynolds said. Water is collected from rain and snow. It is recycled and reused four times: for showering, for watering indoor plants, for toilets, and for irrigating plants outdoors. Electricity is generated by wind and solar sources.
David Kirby, "Havens," The New York Times, June 28, 2002
The Times article says that Michael Reynolds invented the earthship concept "seven years ago," but that's a bit off. Mr. Reynolds published a book called Earthships: How to Build Your Own back in 1990. The earliest media citation I could find this sense of earthship mentions his book (there are other senses of the word that date to at least the early 80s).