Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Anne Martens and Margaret Doyle some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

UW prof discovers the cutting edge in green living

Her new book recounts a journey to 14 ecovillages, where communities of people are trying to build sustainable, healthy ways of living.
Residents who specialize in winemaking live in these high-efficiency buildings at the Italian ecovillage of Dhamanhur.

Residents who specialize in winemaking live in these high-efficiency buildings at the Italian ecovillage of Dhamanhur. Ecovillagebook.org

Some residents of part of an Italian ecovillage live in wooden buildings among the trees so keep them as close as possible to the plants with whom they want to communicate.

Some residents of part of an Italian ecovillage live in wooden buildings among the trees so keep them as close as possible to the plants with whom they want to communicate. Ecovillagebook.org

In a world of dwindling natural resources and mounting environmental crisis, who is devising ways of living that will work for the long haul? And how can we, as individuals, make a difference?

To answer these questions, Professor Karen Litfin embarked upon a journey to many of the world’s ecovillages – intentional communities at the cutting-edge of sustainable living. From Los Angeles to South India and Denmark to Senegal, she discovered an under-the-radar global movement making positive and radical changes from the ground up. 

Part travel adventure, part sneak preview into community living arrangements the world over, "Ecovillages, Lessons for Sustainable Living" by the University of Washington's Karen Litfin is a book that offers hope. Litfin who teaches global environmental politics was on a mission to find inspiration for herself and her students in the face of failed environmental treaties, unchecked carbon buildup, habitat loss and species extinction. She found it in micro-level living experiments.

With guidance from the Global Ecovillage Network, Litfin's journey took her to 14 communities around the globe, three in the United States, several in Germany, and others in Australia, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Senegal and the United Kingdom. “I wanted to study communities in the global north and global south because after all about 80 percent of humanity lives in the not-so-affluent world," Litfin says. "On the other hand those of us in the global north are living the least sustainably, so we really are in desperate need of the models.”

The models that ecovillages provide may appear alien to many in the “developed world.” Sharing is their taproot, says Litfin, a way of living that makes them a pioneer species. In botany it's known that whenever land has been devastated through natural or human means, certain tenacious plants are the first species to grow. Ecovillages are like that, she says. They're showing a way forward with ecological awareness, interdependence and tenacity.

Unlike the back-to-the-land movements of the 1960s and '70s, ecovillages aren't interested in being separate from the world but in demonstrating what Litfin calls "low energy cosmopolitanism." “Basically that's how do you have a planetary identify and planetary consciousness, even a planetary civilization and do so with as little energy as possible?”

We don't all need to go out and build new ecovillages, says Litfin. Instead, we need to glean their lessons and apply them wherever we live in order to lower our own carbon footprints. The average American is responsible for 19.8 tons of carbon per person annually while the average Chinese citizen clocks in at 4.6 tons and, for India, it's a mere 1.2 tons per person.

The ecovillage that attracts the most attention is Damanhur in the Italian Alps. Spiritual yet high-tech, it boasts a molecular biology lab for testing genetically modified food, a smart phone for every member, and an address that's listed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Gaia theory, the idea that Earth is a living sentient being, is taken a few steps further at Damanhur, says Litfin. “They believe their community in the foothills of the Alps is actually tapping into the nervous system of Gaia.” A foundation of the 1,000-member community is respect for the environment, which means growing organic food, using green building principles and implementing renewable energy projects. Twenty-five nucleos or communities are devoted to a particular kind of work — everything from animal husbandry and international relations to learning how to communicate with plants. “I stayed in the community that was trying to learn from plants and communicate with them. They live in tree houses, arboricoli.” Litfin laughs.

Another ecovillage, Auroville, in South India's Tamil Nadu state, is one of the few places on earth where biodiversity is increasing. Called the “City of Dawn,'” the 2,000-member community has people from 43 different countries who live smack in the middle of 40,000 Tamil villagers. “You have a minority of people from the affluent world and a majority of people from the global south living cheek by jowl and somehow they have to work it out.”


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

psst... Martha. Who paid for the professor's 'round the world tour?

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 3:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Some months back Megan McArdle (columnist Bloomberg) asked a serious question: why are people who drive Hummers regarded with justifiable distain while those who travel for pleasure or for some reason less than economic necessity given no notice or even considerable respect? both cohorts possess huge carbon footprints, roughly 1 lb. of carbon per mile per passenger in a modern jet (more in smaller short-haul aircraft). This article describes societies that (gasp) replant logged off forests and that sometimes use handmade bricks… well, brace yourself, but that is not a revelation and, in the case of the handmade bricks, not even particularly useful.

kieth

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 11:29 p.m. Inappropriate

The review, or the book (or both) communicate a 1960's gee-whiz naiveté that are parody, or satire. For example:

'The ecovillage that attracts the most attention is Damanhur in the Italian Alps. Spiritual yet high-tech, it boasts a molecular biology lab for testing genetically modified food, a smart phone for every member, and an address that's listed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” '

Really...a "smart-phone for every member" -- shocking! Like just about every junior high schooler.

The book may have some value but the reviewer makes the book look silly.

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

psst...Martha. Who paid for the professor's 'round the world tour?

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Smartphones are eco-friendly? Instant credibility killer.

Djinn

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

"The average American is responsible for 19.8 tons of carbon per person annually."

That is some crazy irony, given that the author of the book likely used double that in this trip. Did she take the train anywhere or do some other offsetting, because I expect more from someone writing a book on "lessons of sustainable living."

jeffro

Posted Thu, Jun 12, 11:29 p.m. Inappropriate

I feel like that's an irrelevant thing to be complaining about here. The travel was necessary for the research, it's not as though the author is making this circuit annually.

endives

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

For the real story on Back to the Future, those obsessing on low carbon footprints as well as all the rest of us would best begin with a walk, bike or transit to obtain a library copy of Dr. Weston Price's 1939 classic: http://seattle.bibliocommons.com/item/show/2498890030_nutrition_and_physical_degeneration

Might be all the carbon one needs to expend, other than that used to power our internet access.

afreeman

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 9:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Really? EcoVillages in Italy with smart phones? Most of these people are fairly well off, and can fly in and out I think Jeffro makes a good point - they aren't doing any 'better' than the rest of us.

Hell, I'd be thrilled to live in the forests of Italy in a tree house with my smart phone!

Vino anyone?

Posted Mon, Mar 24, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

"four windows in the house of sustainability"??? Someone is in desperate need of justifying their existence in academia. Can we just edit this down to the apparent underlying message, that the developed world needs to revert back to life as it was in the 19th century?

stan

Posted Mon, Mar 24, 5:40 p.m. Inappropriate

What? You expect ecovillagers to admit their agendas?

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »