We have all heard those lovely platitudes about ‘living in the present’ and ‘being in the now’, implying we shouldn’t think too much about a potential future we can’t control, or a past we might regret, but cannot change. It may be better for our psychological, emotional and mental health to keep our minds focused on the present, instead of worrying about what may happen, or what might have been. But from an environmental perspective, it’s vital that we engage in forward planning and thinking about the future; acknowledge the impacts of our past choices; understand how, when and where our present actions may manifest in the future; and create a new vision for a stable, sustainable, self-sufficient, people-oriented society.
I have shared my thoughts on houses, homes, belonging and place, and tried to navigate a way through my conflicting feelings on the culturally and socially acceptable notions of home ‘ownership’, and reconcile these ideas with traditional, indigenous ideas of land stewardship. I painted a picture of the ideal sustainable home I would imagine building for myself. Now I want to outline my vision for an eco-community of the future.
Alternative models of community
Historically, our cities were surrounded by farmland. Small communities were formed around prime agricultural land which provided easy access to food. Suburban growth was facilitated by the introduction and accessibility of cars, cheap and abundant fuel, and government-funded transport infrastructure. These developments resulted in the loss of agricultural farmland to accommodate suburban sprawl. Our houses got bigger; (some) sellers, banks and real estate agents got greedier; we felt we needed to keep up with (or surpass) the perceived success of friends and neighbours; and have the biggest, best, most fashionable stuff. This may have been encouraged by the mass media and a capitalist, consumer culture, but we’ve all bought into it.
Alternatives to this current model exist. The Garden City Movement was conceptualized by Ebenezer Howard. I haven’t read his book, published in 1898, though many of his key ideas, as outlined here, are aligned with the Environmental Warrior ethos. Howard believed nature and human society were meant to be experienced together, and this union would give rise to a new, improved civilization. Value is retained within the community, instead of making an external person or entity (landlord, investor or corporation) wealthy. This is similar to the Bank Australia model of sustainable banking. Howard’s concept is also underpinned by principles of collective land ownership and long-term stewardship.
Greening our cities is becoming an important issue on many political and community agendas. The Green City Campaign was launched by the Earth Day Network in 2013 to promote the transition to clean, healthy, sustainable and economically viable cities of the future. There’s a growing trend around the world towards micro-housing, communal living, and establishment of eco-villages, where people pool funds, resources, skills and experiences to create self-sufficient communities.
Eight basic principles of deep ecology
In 1984, Norwegian philosopher and founder of the ‘Deep Ecology’ concept, Arne Naess, and his colleague George Sessions articulated eight basic principles of deep ecology. In summary, all non-human life forms have intrinsic value independent of their utility for human purposes. The human species has no right to deplete the Earth’s biodiversity for purposes beyond basic survival.
We must limit the human population, otherwise both human and non-human species will not survive. We must change the way we currently live through implementation of government, economic and technological policy. We must create a new ideology, where we appreciate quality of life over a higher standard of living (which is becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve and maintain), and those of us who subscribe to these views are obligated to bring about these changes and make the commitment to achieve them.
I particularly like the seventh principle:
“The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.”
To ‘dwell in situations of inherent worth’ we must shift our focus away from excessive consumption, collecting possessions and amassing material wealth (because they have no inherent worth). We must embrace a social and cultural civilization that defines success differently, through the cultivation of healthy relationships, psychological maturation of the inner self (as proposed by Bill Plotkin in his excellent books Soulcraft and Nature and the Human Soul), and a quality of life based on experiences (which have inherent worth), not things.
These become the new places we reside, and where we direct our energies. Knowing the difference between ‘big’ and ‘great’ lies in our recognition that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. True success is not about ownership and external wealth. True success is about self-governance, integrity and inner wisdom, and substance over surface.
Future vision is informed by past and present environmental outcomes
Environmental impacts occur on spatial and temporal scales, often far into the future and somewhere far removed from the initial time and place of origin. We inform our future vision when we acknowledge the negative impacts of our past choices; when we learn from the past about our successes and failures; and when we understand how, where and when our actions in the present will manifest in the future.
For example, conventional agriculture has destroyed soil integrity, introduced toxic pesticides and GMOs into our food supply, and contaminated our bodies and the Earth. Our past actions have caused these outcomes, the negative impacts of which we see playing out in the world today.
Perhaps it’s time for an alternative?
An eco-community vision
These ideas can be implemented in urban planning to create a new model for society:
- Service-based economy, not a manufacturing-based economy
- Small houses for single occupancy
- Communal living arrangements
- Sustainable management of surrounding forested areas
- Gardens designed with permaculture principles
- Green roofs on buildings
- Housing incorporating passive design principles
- Vegetable gardens and compost heaps in backyards
- Urban ecological parks and corridors to encourage wildlife to share living spaces
- Traditional methods of soil management and poly-crop rotation
- Worm farms to create healthy soil
- Footpaths to encourage walking and bicycling
- Housing and business premises within walking distance to encourage activity
- Small business and community development
- Working with our hands, with reduced reliance on machinery
- Artisanal bakery
- Organic store selling unpackaged fruits and vegetables
- Bulk food store selling dry goods in bring-your-own jars
- Provision of essential services – school, doctor, dentist
- Availability of holistic therapies and plant-based, indigenous knowledge
- Master repairers to mend broken appliances and computers
- Food production managed by farmers and co-operatives, not corporations
- Traditional artists crafting one-off pieces, not mass-produced items
- Shifting focus from a consumer mentality to people and relationships
- Organic small-scale farming, not large-scale conventional pesticide agriculture
- Hand harvesting, not industrialized, mechanized farming
- Using the energy potential of humans and animals to perform work
- Local economies and local production using local resources
- People make valuable contributions to the community through meaningful work
- Renewable energies – solar and wind power
My future vision for an eco-community is based on co-operation and connection over corporate interests and competition; people over profit; working with nature, not against her; and sharing our living spaces freely with all life.