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The Ecovillage Movement by Ross Jackson

The Ecovillage Movement by Ross Jackson

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Published by Utopian Research

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Published by: Utopian Research on Jul 03, 2011
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07/03/2011

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 The “most significant event of the 20
th
century”? The “most importantmovement in all of history”? Powerful words. Let us look at what is behindthem.When Findhorn community in northern Scotland announced the topic fortheir annual autumn conference in 1995 as “Ecovillages and SustainableCommunities”, they were overwhelmed with applications from all over theworld, breaking all previous records. Eventually, they had to turn away about400 people for lack of capacity in beautiful Universal Hall. Somehow they hadstruck a chord that resonated far and wide. The word “ecovillage”, which wasbarely four years old at the time, thus became part of the language of theCultural Creatives. It was appropriate that the first major conference was atthe “planetary village” of Findhorn — founded in 1962 — because it was oneof the oldest and best known of the many intentional communities around theworld. After October 1995, most of them, like Findhorn, began callingthemselves “ecovillages”, and a new movement was born. Following theconference, a group of about 25 people, from almost as many countries,decided to formalize the sense of a major historic event by founding theGlobal Ecovillage Network (GEN) to link the hundreds of small projects thathad sprung up around the world with a common motivation, but without havingknowledge of each other. Gaia Trust, Denmark, committed on the spot to fundthe network for the first five years.
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Thus was born a new lifestyle movement, which may prove to be far moresignificant than has been realized to date in government circles and themedia, who have yet to discover what is happening all across the world. Theecovillage movement — although still in its early embryonic stage — is aglobal phenomenon responding to global causes. It is best understood as apart of the anti-globalisation movement. But while the more visible parts of theanti-globalisation movement protest the corporate-dominated global economicmodel through demonstrations in the streets and consumer boycotts andthrough single issues movements, ecovillagers have a different approach.They are quietly building small, sustainable communities with their limited
 
2resources, with personal commitment
 — walking their talk. They seeecovillages as models of how we must all live eventually, if the threat to ourenvironment and social structures posed by corporate-led globalisation is tobe taken seriously. It is a lifestyle possible for everybody on the planet.Many politicians and others, who have observed the phenomenon, tend toclassify ecovillagers as “idealists”, as if to dismiss them as irrelevant. But thisreaction is flippant and quite misleading. The reality is that ecovillagers arethe true “realists”, who take the threats to our way of life seriously, and aretaking personal action to deal with the problem. It is our traditional politicianswho are unwilling or unable to deal with the issues. They are living in afantasy world that cannot continue for long. Their almost religious belief inunending economic growth as a solution to our problems is untenable and issimply delaying the time when serious action will have to be taken.Politicians are taking the easy way out, while ecovillagers are confrontingthe problem head-on, doing the hard but necessary work with little or nosupport from the broader community. They are establishing the veryfoundation of a new culture, which society will eventually embrace, partlythrough necessity, but also because ecovillage living simply offers far moresatisfying life conditions than the dominant Western model, as a closerexamination would demonstrate to any curious citizen.An ecovillage is, ideally speaking, a microcosm of the macrocosm, as itrepresents in a very small area — typically with 50-400 people — all theelements and all the problems present in the greater society, while providingvisible solutions to these problems, whether it be living sustainably, resolvingconflicts peacefully, creating jobs, raising children, providing relevanteducation, or simply enjoying and celebrating life. Contrast this with thebroader Western society, with fragmented families, separation of work andhome, separation of rich and poor, crime in the streets, and living in constantfear under stress, not least because deep down we all know that the currentWestern life-style of exaggerated consumption and social inequity isunsustainable and unjust on a global scale, and will come to an end sooner orlater.However, the ideal ecovillage does not exist. It is a work in process — afundamental component of the new paradigm, where much is yet to belearned. What do exist are thousands of partial solutions in a myriad ofvariants on the same general theme, in different cultures, under differentclimactic conditions, and under different kinds of societies, but linked together,as if in one extended global family, by a common Life-based value systemthat defies traditional divisions of race, religion and culture.
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If we examine the motivations of ecovillagers, we find that they fall naturallyinto three categories — social, ecological and spiritual. Most ecovillages aredominated initially by one of these impulses, but tend gradually to integratethe other two aspects as they grow and come into contact with other membersof the network. This is a quite natural evolution, as the three aspects are inreality just three components of any Life-based way of living, but it takespeople a little time to realize this. Findhorn, for example, was originally aspiritually based community. But in recent years, it has begun to prioritiseecological building techniques for new homes. There are many examples of
 
3the opposite, where a group that was inspired by ecological considerations,gradually and naturally developed an interest in personal development andvarious spiritual paths. Perhaps the most common motivation historically hasbeen the social aspect, exemplified in the co-housing movement, whichoriginated in Denmark in the late 1960s, and has since evolved into a variantof city-based ecovillage living in many countries. These people have realizedthat a closely-knit community simply improves the quality of social life, without
sacrificing the privacy of one’s own home. The latest development in Denmarkis the exploding interest in senior co-housing projects, as many pensionersrealize that they can still have a high-quality social life in their later years, andneed not be isolated in some institution or even a home in an indifferentsuburb or rural town. Note that in spite of differences in race, religion andculture, ecovillagers share the same vision, which can be summarized as theprioritising of community, culture and a natural environment above Money-based consumerism.
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Many of these initiatives are now linked up by the Global EcovillageNetwork, covering both the global North and South. The network includesthree major regions. Europe has 20 national networks; in North and SouthAmerica there are 9 bioregional networks; Asia has a less developed network,but it is growing steadily; Africa has just formed its first regional networkrecently. The networks include both the intentional communities of the Northand the traditional villages of the South.No one knows exactly how many ecovillages exist. Most have started uphistorically as local initiatives. Many are not yet connected to GEN. Our roughestimate of the number of intentional communities, including co-housingprojects, would be about 4-5000, depending a little on the definition. AlthoughAlbert Bates of the GEN International board, estimates that there may be asmany as 15,000 with a broad definition. The size of intentional ecovillagesvaries a lot, but is seldom greater than 500. Of course, the South is a differentstory, as hundreds of thousands of traditional villages still have their socialstructure intact, although they are under great pressure from commercialglobalisation. The largest GEN constituent is the 40-year old Sri LankaSarvodaya movement, which includes about 12,000 traditional villages.
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 The social aspect is undoubtedly the most important driving cause behindthe ecovillage movement. To understand why, we must understand that theroot causes of the current global crisis are a result of the dominant economicmodel. The key point here is that the neo-liberal economic system takes noaccount of the negative social and environmental effects of the production andtrading of goods. In economic language, these effects are “externalized”, i.e.outside their models. As a consequence, their negative social andenvironmental damage has no economic value whatsoever. The damageliterally becomes invisible — outside of the economists’ field of vision. Howelse can one explain the so-called “green revolution” of India being claimed tobe an “economic miracle” by free market advocates and an “unmitigateddisaster” by the people of India.

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