Thus did Hildur and I reach agreement on what Gaia Trust should do. She, using her feminine grass roots intuition, I, first after an intellectual exercise in fundamental problem-solving theory. It was obvious! We should support the people who are intentionally living sustainably already. Namely, the people who are building ecovillages around the world. Make them more visible. Promote the good examples. Make them into a movement, a global network whose members learn and gain strength from each other. Let them show others how it is done, so that when the time comes, they will know where to go, what to do.
The logic is simple. If the examples are good enough, they will be replicated. From then on, it is only a question of time until the strategy succeeds and ecovillages become the basis for a new culture based on a new holistic paradigm. The only uncertainty is the time it will take. Ecovillages are ideal vehicles for this task because they are by definition holistic, representing all the different aspect of sustainability in one place where it can be seen in an integrated solution – renewable energy, organic food production, a social network, waste water treatment, ecological building, and so on. It may take 20 years to become main stream, it may take much more, but it is inevitable. And if the examples are not good enough? Then we will simply have to help make them better!
Hildur was especially emphatic about the social dimension being the most important characteristic of an ecovillage — the reestablishment of community. As time has passed, I agree more and more with that early observation, although initially I was more focused on environmental sustainability. However, social networks are critical to the concept. Without this component, you do not have the necessary “glue” to create a common vision. Our cohousing experience taught us that. Without the “glue” you get a bunch of buildings with no soul. We tend to underestimate the importance of informal social networks in the West. They have disappeared to a great extent, especially in the big cities. But they are still of fundamental importance in the “developing countries” (Hildur hates that expression. “They are every bit as developed as we are.” But what do you call them. The South? The Third World? There is no good answer.) We were recently in St. Petersburg, where many people had not received their salaries for 9 months, and there is nothing remotely resembling the Scandinavian welfare state. But the people survive because of their networks, sharing the little they have among family and friends. It is the same throughout the South.
One of the issues we discussed was the very term “ecovillage”. It is a quite new expression that is just beginning to enter the mainstream vocabulary. This has the advantage that we can adopt it and define what it means. Make it our word. Its first usage as far as we could tell was in some of the recent issues of In Context magazine, the leading-edge periodical focusing on sustainability issues, used to describe some newer projects that went beyond cohousing to include food production in rural settings. The alternative main stream name “sustainable communities” was already so misused that it often included traditional “economically” sustainable communities, Chamber of Commerce job creation projects and much more in a grab bag of usage, including much larger development projects than we envisioned. The best arguments in favor of “ecovillage” as a name was that it was catchy, undefined, and had positive overtones.