People valued brick houses for their solidity and durability long before the Brothers Grimm wrote down the story of the wise pig who kept the wolf at bay while his brothers had their straw and wood homes blown down. The denizens of Tamil Nadu state in India are no different. Yet the kilns they need to bake enough bricks for a decent home require up to 15 tons of firewood—both an economic and an environmental hardship.

Development experts might have suggested that residents switch to a less...

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