Ecovillages – New Frontiers for Sustainability

Jonathan Dawson: Ecovillages – New Frontiers for Sustainability, Schumacher Briefings 12, Green Books, 2006, ISBN 1 903998 77 8, 94 pages, £6.00.

This short and well-written book describes the wide range of types of ecovillages around the world, based on the author's in depth knowledge through his work for the Global Ecovillages Network (GEN). The lessons learned in these ecovillages have practical applications for the wider society.

Ecovillages have been defined as a “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.”

This model is seen by Dawson as a direct challenge to the neo-liberal model of globalisation. Writing the book in 2006 he must feel vindicated by his words: “Globalisation could be bankrupted by any one of these crises: the rise in fuel prices or in insurance damages associated with global warming; a drop in food supply due to a reduction in chemical inputs; decreased availability of water and/or loss of soil fertility; meldown in the financial markets following a major debtor country default or some other generalised loss of confidence; and/or terrorist attacks on vital supply lines or other strategic targets.”

Ecovillages tend to be involved in many of the same activities often based on similar values. However, within these there are great variations. Some of them place a high emphasis on being a learning center for the wider community, like the Center for Alternative Technologies (CAT) in Wales. The common features can be summarised as:

the design of low-impact human settlements
promoting sustainable local economies
organic, locally based food production and processing
earth restoration
revival of participatory, community-scale governance
social inclusion
peace activism and international solidarity, and
holistic, whole person education.

Being very supportive of ecovillages Dawson is not afraid of challenging them to go even further. His is particularly worried that many of them are too isolated from the society around them. He encourages them in “enmeshing themselves more deeply within the fabric of their bioregions”. As examples of how this can be done he again mentions CAT in Wales and the ideas behind the Transition Town movement.

Dawson's second challenge to the ecovillages is to develop a template for how to set up an ecovillage as probably around 90% of initiatives fail to get off the ground, often because of lack of access to financial resources to purchase land, restore buildings, etc. He encourages working with local and regional authorities to find solutions.

With globalisation in crises, the energy famine to arrive in a few years, the ecovillages have kept alive a lot of the skills we will need to survive during the turbulent years and decades ahead of us. The sooner we can learn these long-forgotten skills the better equipped we will be. I will add one more reason: it is a healthier and happier way of living your life.