There are people living according to such values as sustainable, local, connected, resilient, circular, lean … A few hundred pioneers with such values meet every summer at the European Global Ecovillage Network conference and cross-pollinate their visions and plans.
On the third day of this year’s conference I sat in a small circle talking with Charles Eisenstein. A man in the circle said that something new is being born in the world. Charles replied: “What if this ‘new’ is already alive, but we do not see it?” After a pause, he added: “Can you imagine a conversation between two brain cells, in which one says to the other: Hey, what if we are part of a huge organism? What if we’re not alone here?”
Our conversation continued over that very question: How would we act if we were aware that we are part of a living entity? What if we are actually not alone in the cataclysmic story unfolding before our eyes?
Charles told a story about Roy Brubaker, farmer from Pennsylvania, who defined success as having the capacity to always be there for your neighbors. When someone needed help, Roy stopped doing what he was doing and went to help. Any time someone called with a problem, Roy would put down what he was doing and be right over to help. Neighbours thought Roy was able to help so many people because he was a successful farmer who had it made. But later they got to understand he was probably more like them, with fifty vegetable crops all crying for attention and a million things to do. He was there for people anyway.
Wherever there is generosity, there is freedom. Poor people in Africa stay generous and vibrant even in times of famine, if only they don’t find themselves under a strong influence of the global story, whereby the world is reduced to quantity. Charles said that the primary religion of modernity – science – the religion of quantity, reduces everything to numbers. Then economy comes next and adds another quantity: money.
Science and economy are protecting the dominant narrative of today’s culture. Like every church they have their own priests, initiations, mystical languages which only initiated have access to, a process to indoctrinate children, internal schisms, cults, political and financial influences, and rituals how to achieve the truth they prescribe. Science and religion are not bad in themselves, but a system of knowledge that is based entirely on one narrative can not be fully trusted. Today we need stories that bridge and integrate.
Solidarity, resilience, hope
This year GEN conference took place in Ängsbacka, Sweden. Due to global situation the conference revolved around three values: solidarity, resilience and hope. Robert Hall, the president of ECOLISE, stressed that solidarity is inevitable, because we need to stay connected with those who suffer; ecovillages are open spaces of help and new ideas. Resilience is necessary because humanity needs to adapt to the boundaries of the planet today; it is essential to focus on UN Sustainable Development Goals and to network globally. Hope is not vanishing even though we are in dark times. We can change quickly, if that is necessary. And if we change together, we’ll be so much more effective.
Kosha Joubert, the executive director of GEN, pointed out that over the past 40 years, biodiversity on the planet has declined by 50%, there is an increase in logging, mineral extraction, and waste production. 200 environmental activists were killed last year, and, as it seems, this figure will be even higher this year. Natural disasters are getting more and more intense. In the meantime ecovillages around the world are showcasing increase in biodiversity and how solutions to global problems are most efficient when developed by small local communities.
This is the spirit of the Ecovillage Development Programme, which invites governments to use the ecovillage model as a way to realize the UN Sustainable Development Goals, relying on the power and will of people. More than 30 countries have already expressed the intention to transform their traditional villages to ecovillages in line with the four dimensions of sustainable development: social, ecological, economic and cultural.
A proof that this is completely realistic was EXPO of sustainable practices. We could see a biodigester, which transforms organic waste into biogas and liquid fertilizer. Next to it was Whike, three-wheeled wind-powered bicycle which can develop the speed of 50 km/h and more. There was a workshop to learn how to build a home wind generator. Another workshop was dedicated to learning how to build with mixed natural construction techniques. A few solar systems were exhibited, including a solar oven, which reached 180 C even the scarce Scandinavian sun. The exhibition featured solutions developed by grass-roots movement to simplify life at the juncture of sustainability and simple technologies.
Unschooling the world
To learn the new we need to “unlearn” the old, to step out of old patterns how things “ought to be”. Helena Norberg-Hodge stressed that global propaganda teaches we are all naturally aggressive and greedy therefore we need structures to control our behaviours. This is the premise of the educational system so it could puts children into moulds to make them “better.”
Helena is the producer of the film Economics of Happiness; In 1991 she was one of the founders of GEN. In the 70’s, in Ladakh, she saw locals having extremely high levels of vitality, joy and self-esteem, before the internalized Western messages that they were undeveloped and backward. A suicides may have happened once in a generation. Today, there is a suicide each month, mostly among young people.
Global economic system is a monster that destroys both communities and genuine individualism, which is the essence of human autonomy. As our fundamental survival and self-esteem become endangered, the result is fear. In politics, neither on the left nor on the right, there is discussion about consequences of deregulation of banks and markets. Citizens are denied access to new trade agreements, and politicians are signing and prescribing them without even reading them. They are committing not to threaten the potential for profit in any kind of way. Karl Schlyter, member of the Swedish Green Party, who was one of the readers of the TTIP agreement, presented some of the unsavoury details.
Helena’s warning was that if we want to ensure a joyful future we need to unschool the world and create resistance to the economic system. She underlined five fundamental strategies for change: connect, educate, resist, renew and celebrate. It is a waste of time to look for the guilty among politicians and CEOs, since blindness is present everywhere – from the bottom to the top of society. The market took the right to remove the power from the people to influence it. One of the umbrella institutions that protects the market is BIS (Bank for International Settlements), which unites 60 central banks from all over the world. Still, it makes no sense to look for the responsible or guilty even there.
Helena didn’t invite us to look for the guilty, but rather to radical responsibility and global activism. If we can not speak and write, we can spread documentaries, books, articles … It is necessary to take a different way, without blaming anyone, with empathy and with a clear message of renewal. Ecosystems can be healed quickly if we connect deeply, without competition, and form genuine reciprocity, rooted in the natural world.
In Charles Eisenstein’s opinion key solutions are simple and inconspicuous. He used the word knitting-ladies to describe all those “invisible” people that keep the fabric of society alive and whole. Knitting-ladies are all of us when we help an old lady across the street, when we keep visiting our grumbling parents in the elderly care home, when we take care of a disabled child, when we take our time to talk to a homeless person, when we do dishes for others, when we wipe the floor …
Ecovillages are knitting ladies, they are not widely visible or recognized (yet). Their virtue, however, is their invisible work somebody just has to do. By their very nature they are generous like farmer Roy. They are taking care of a million things, but at the same time they are not losing people’s problems from their sight. The cure for hyper-individualism is not hyper-collectivism, the cure it understanding what supports and strengthens life. Our current culture is definitely not in favour of radical reductionism to quality, but in ecovillages we believe therein lies the key to living future today.
This article was originally published in Slovenian in newspaper Delo on 29. 7. 2017.