We live in a fantastically complex age in which we must analyze and challenge the very foundations of modernity. Our ultimate authorities invest a majority of its funds in the military and do little to support the safety and life force of their civilians. Corporate industrial monopolies extract and exploit human labor, perpetuating the global wage gap. We place our value and dependency for life into a consumer society which is constantly seeking growth but is by no means inclusive or sustainable. Consequently, our actions are destroying the very fabric of our climate systems. With an estimated world population of nine billion by 2040 coupled with deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the depletion of the atmosphere, we can no longer continue in the business as usual pattern of production and consumption. However, in fear of their own subversion, overarching nation-states, governments, and international organizations will not act in time to save the environment. The responsibility lies in civilians to reconstitute a means of life through intentional community making.
The United Nations (UN) through the implementation of sustainable development policies have effectively delineated the holistic connections between our global economy and the environment. Yet, the UN neglects major problems in our industrialized world when it comes to executing policies to combat environmental degradation. For example, look at the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Signed at the Rio Summit in 1992, article two of the treaty states that the ultimate objective for the future was the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” (UN 1992b) The treaty, despite being signed by 195 governments and the European Union failed to reduce GHG emissions at all. This failure can be accredited to many disproportionate factors among the actors working towards a single framework. (Sachs, 394) For example, high-income countries have high emission rates per capita, meaning they carry more responsibility. In other instances, the lack of democracy in some countries inhibited a collective effort toward sustained GHG reduction.
Later, the Kyoto protocol of 1997 embraced the idea that some countries carry more responsibilities than others regarding environmental degradation. The protocol designated high-income countries to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2012. However, this agreement too failed because China was not obligated to have an emission target as a developing country and because the US never signed the treaty at all. (Sachs, 443) In short, the agreement put precedence on individual state interest, preventing collective actions from being taken towards environmental protection.
We must shift the conversation towards the reclamation of our own modes of production. In order to sustain life on earth, we can take direct action in creating environmentally equitable and prosperous communities through the implementation of ecovillages. On October of 2017, Karl Steyaert led a discussion in Tokyo on the making of ecovillages through his work in the Findhorn Community. Steyaert propounds that through intentional community making, human life and economic systems can be more “harmlessly integrated into the natural world,” and that communities such as Findhorn promote egalitarian and socio-economically inclusive societies.
Like other ecovillages worldwide, Findhorn is cultivating a more self-sustaining way of life, utilizing wind turbines for electricity and growing much of its own produce, as well as building infrastructures and buildings partially sourced from recycled materials. The community has even created its own currency to promote local businesses, and is cultivating barter and gift economies. In implementing these alternative socio-economic models, intentional communities are able to direct resource flows and not exploit the value of goods and services. Steyaert also goes on to explain how Findhorn’s ecovillage promotes a healthy work ethic and collective decision making. The individual well-being and autonomy of all constituents are highly prioritized, so facilitated collaborations replace hierarchical leadership in the workplace. In this way, communication systems do not become “isolated and fractured.” Findhorn also has alternative education programs focused on independent thought and the connection to the natural world. This is in lieu of competitive credentials and curricula designed for proponents to join industrial labor forces.
While the concept of ecovillages may seem idealistic and unrealistic to many, in the face of a mass global diaspora predicted at the turn of the century because of environmental degradation, it may be one of the only solutions. I maintain that self-sustaining communities are a conceivable trajectory for the future. What would be crazier is that we as a society continue to ignore the very real threat to the human populous. Lest we will expend all of the earth’s resources. It is time we conceptualize new modes of life itself.
1992b. United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change. unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf.
Sachs, Jeffrey D. The Age of Sustainable Development. Columbia University Press, 2015.