Sustainability is a topic that is now being discussed more than ever and is being carried out more and more as a way of living. In this essay I will be researching and studying when this concept appeared and how have people involved it in their everyday lives, giving examples in developed and developing countries.
The definition of sustainability has a long life age. We were sustainable when we lived off what Earth gave us naturally and sustainably, but the concept itself appeared around the 80s when we started to exploit it, so people started to be aware of the severe damage we were doing and being sustainable was seen as a new lifestyle. Globalization also carries out a big role in this topic. Making a more interconnected world, culturally and economically, created more competition between regions and companies. It generated an increase in the production of goods and services, causing mass production leading to an increase in pollution and global warming. It also created a division of labor causing a high difference in income which is still increasing nowadays. Capitalism divided the society and people felt neglected and marginated.
The 60s environmental movement is an example of the rejection people had for the mainstream, capitalist and materialist values there were. Citizens started to think about the environment they were living in and began to be aware of the destruction of it caused by the new technology, the economy, and the industry. Organizations were created to raise the public’s awareness and raise funds for the clean up and protection of the Earth.
Over the years, decades, people felt dissatisfied with the negative social and ecological impacts so they started to create villages on the peripheries of the cities. “They started building communities that attempted to get away from pollution, competition, and violence of contemporary life.” (Helena Norberg-Hodge, 2006, pg. 21).
Some of these mentioned communities are intentional ecovillages. An ecovillage is defined by Robert Gilman as: “human-scale full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development, and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.” (Robert Gilman, 1991). Ecovillagers look for alternatives to environmentally destructive electrical, water, transportation and waste treatment systems and so live in a low-carbon, non-consumerist environment.
The idea of creating different social households and experimenting with new social forms has a long history and according to Jan Martin Bang in his book on ecovillages, it goes back to 552BC when Pythagoras wanted people to leave their luxurious and corrupted lives to commit to a purer system. Pythagoras said: “We ought so to behave to one another as to avoid making enemies of our friends, and at the same time to make friends of our enemies. Friends share all things. As soon as laws are necessary for men, they are no longer fit for freedom”. This association was then suppressed but the Pythagoreans continued to exist as a sect. Other intentional communities were found half a millennium later such as Essenes in the desert at the northern end of the Dead Sea formed by radical Jews who left the cities and villages of Judea to set up an alternative to their mainstream society. In the 6th, 7th and 8th century there were also communities in the Irish and Scottish west coasts which had similar goals to an ecovillage of a dedication to love the land and celebrate the sacred. But ecovillages have suddenly burst onto the scene. People have stopped waiting for society to wake up to the social and environmental crisis and do something themselves. Ecovillages have a lot to offer, as our current societies are looking for a way to repair all the damage done until now.
In 1991 Hildur and Ross Jackson created the Gaia Trust, a charitable foundation which funded a study by Robert and Diane Gilman of sustainable communities around the world. They made a report, ‘Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities’, that found that full-scale ecovillages did not exist. Gaia Trust had a meeting with the representatives of eco-communities to discuss the development of the concept of ecovillage. This led to the creation of GEN (Global Ecovillage Network), a large growing international group of ecovillages with the aim of “support and encourage the evolution of sustainable settlements across the world” (GEN, 2017). Some communities choose not to form part of GEN because they already form part of a network or organization or because they don’t feel networking is necessary. Communities in the global South are qualified as ecovillages but some are in countries where GEN is unknown.
One of the many members of GEN and one of the best known and successful ecovillage is Auroville (City of Dawn) in India founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa. “Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”(Mirra Alfassa, 1968). It self-declared as “an ideal town-slip devoted to an experiment in human unity”. It’s first priority was to create dams and dikes to stop the run-off of monsoon floods and to plant trees and currently this has been achieved with more than 2 million trees being planted, water management programs being implemented and the local ecosystems being restored to back to health.
The city was built from scratch creating the originally dessert area, into a green lively area by planting trees and other plant species that could survive in those conditions. The town was then planned for a population of 50.000 people. “It was an experiment for us because land is limited, resources are limited and we wanted to see how people could live together in a healthy, happy, inspiring quality of life.” (Auroville resident, 2012). They have organic agriculture, renewable energy, water management and less impactful building materials, as well as a seed bank that grows a variety of vegetables of species that can be grown in their climate, which are then distributed for free in India to organic farmers, NGOs and government institutions. One of their aims was also to replace kerosene lamps with solar lanterns, as the kersone lamps give health problems and 86 million households in India still use it,. This would bring a new product to the market, better and more affordable than kerosene lamps. “Auroville has become an important resource for communities both within its own bioregion and on the sub-continent as a whole.” (Jonathan Dawson, 2006).
Another ecovillage is Mbau and Faonne in Senegal. Their process of how and why they became an ecovillage is different from Auroville, as they saw themselves in a more desperate situation to save their culture and values rather than making the region sustainable and beneficial for others. What characterizes Mbau and Faoune is its mangrove forests that live in salt water which is effective as a saline filter as it leaves the land behind free from salt which is then used to grow rice.
In 1980 Mbau and Faoune went through a terrible drought that hit the Sahelian region and the mangroves came under threat, also because there was a sudden increase in human numbers which began to threaten the ability of the trees to self-regenerate. Mbau and Faoune is an example of a region that was pressured by the colonial power and capitalism which made it become a mass producer of peanut crops. It also found itself under cultural assault as the media published images and messages creating a false image and glamourizing western, modern, urban life-styles and attacking their own traditional values.
As a consequence of this ecological and economical crisis and cultural loss, the people left for the cities. The citizens were then determined to get control back over the future of their communities which led to the application to become an ecovillage and going through a process of accreditation with members of GEN Senegal. Recognizing the importance of the cultural dimensions of sustainability, the community decided to make an effort on preserving, celebrating and sharing their indigenous values, beliefs and customs.
Ecovillages overall have 5 main attributes according to Jonathan Dawson, a sustainable educator and the former President of the Global Ecovillage Network. The first one is the primacy of community, meaning that an ecovillage is a response to the alienation of the modern life and people want a reconnection with others in a meaningful community. In an indigenous context such as Senegal, there is a desire to preserve traditional values and ways of life that are disappearing because of forces of modernity. The second attribute is citizens’ initiatives which rely on the resources and vision of community members themselves that results from a dissatisfaction with alienation from the government. The third attribute is getting back control over their own resources. In countries of the South, the struggle for control over resources between communities and corporations are more obvious, for example water is diverted away from small-scale farms and given to monoculture plantations. The forth attribute is the strong shared values. There is a shared commitment to global justice, ecological restoration, rebuilding community and service to others. This is sometimes referred to in terms of ‘spirituality’. The fifth attribute is the centres of research and training an ecovillage has to develop new ideas, technologies and models that are then shared globally.
After researching about intentional communities that are aware of the polluted condition earth is in and are trying to do something about it, I then thought of tribes and other cultures in developing countries. I questioned myself, if these groups of people that have always lived without an established government or economy and live off natural resources are they then also considered ecovillagers? Are they sustainable? if so, are they aware of it? With globalization, have they integrated things we do?
Tribes traditionally live within the cycle of nature and discover how to survive, making the most of what the natural world provides them and adapt their ways of living such as their houses, to their environment. Some tribes orientate their houses in a way so the sun comes through the windows and the light and heat from it can be fully taken advantage from.
In the Indonesian archipelago, the west Papua island was divided in two and it is habited by papuans living in hundreds of tribes each of which has its own language and customs. The Korowai tribe is one of these many tribes in West Papua but it is one of a few tribes in the world that truly knows how to survive in really challenging surroundings. They have to build their houses up in the tree’s canopy to protect themselves from wild animals and also because it is not easy to do so in the jungle’s ground. To be able to build on top of the trees they build a ladder leading to the crown of the tree. The tree houses are completely made out of natural resources they find in and surrounding the jungle. Korowaiens have a great understanding of their environment which is important, to know how to survive and build their households.
Trees in forests are in a high demand all around the world and are under a high threat due to logging. But in some places the effects of logging are less destructive, like in Northeast india which has one of the most valuable resources, teak, that is used mainly to build doors, homes and furniture. These forests have been commercially exploited over the years and have slowly deteriorated. The indigenous people living in these forests are trying to control the environmental devastation caused by logging, by making use of the power of elephants which is a very sustainable solution. Elephants have incredible strength and agility and can drag logs through the ground and over hills and rivers. They can reach places machines used for logging can’t reach which also allows the logger to select trees without clearing the whole jungle. They are environmentally friendly as it involves no pollution and they are 100% green fuel. Elephants are not machines though and they have to be treated with respect, that’s why they are taken care from “mahouts” who are teached to guide these animals for logging. This way of logging is sustainable as long as the forests can regenerate by replanting the chopped trees which is done by the indigenous communities which also leads to a secure income. Indigenous people are aware that using elephants for logging is a sustainable way to manage their endangered forests.
In conclusion I believe that to be able to a have a more sustainable world people must firstly be more knowledged about this subject and about what is going on around them because most of the society is uneducated about it, Donald Trump being an example. It is also about working together and not against each other; about listening and communicating with each other but also communicating with nature and knowing its limits. It is important to use natural resources but without abusing them and in a way that they can regenerate with time. That’s what has brought us to our current situation, the exploitation of everything nature has gifted us with and we’ve been degrading the Earth from the inside out and I believe that until it doesn’t affect us personally no one will take it seriously. Because people aren’t patient and are mainly interested in power and making money in the quickest possible way, not in the long term in the most beneficial sustainable way for everyone as it involves more time and money.
But more and more people are starting to be aware of global warming and climate change, and are starting to use more sustainable alternatives such as solar power, reusing waste, becoming vegan, buying second hand for charity and are motivating others to do so. More and more companies and organizations are promoting this concept and including it in their ideology. I don’t think creating a community such as Auroville, isolated from everything else, from reality, is the way to maintain a more sustainable world. I feel like the problems, ecological, social or economical, should be dealt within the moment. It’s not about creating a society that already understands about sustainability and works within itself, it’s about working with our current society and making them aware and understand what needs to change and how, which I believe we are slowly and gradually achieving.