What’s the best way to get a room full of people to get very quiet, very quickly? Bring up climate change. In fact, it’s one of the most talked about hush-hush topics of recent years. Despite its popularity on blogs and political debates, a study by National Public Radio found that 85% of teachers don’t teach this topic in schools. Even among those who acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, there is a strong debate on how to combat it. Do we switch from plastic bags to cloth? Invest in reusable straws? All solutions seem to be geared towards what individuals can do to live more sustainably. Yes, small personal changes add up in the long run, but they barely make a dent in reducing our global carbon footprint. But what if, rather than individuals, entire communities pledged to work on a larger scale?
Community Living is Sustainable Living
To understand the connection between community and a sustainable lifestyle, we need to look at the essence of sustainable living. In the most basic sense, it is having a positive and mindful relationship with your ecosystem. Community living follows a similar tennant. For a community to be successful, individual members must have a mindful relationship with each other. So with large groups of people already thinking of the greater whole, it’s not a big leap to adapt those ideals towards a sustainable lifestyle.
Flipping the Script
It’s time to shift the argument from what can I do, to what can we do. Individual sustainability can’t hold a candle to what entire communities can do when they work together. Just look at the ‘Eco-villages’ found across the globe.
Auroville was conceptualised as a commune that would embody human unity — with each other and their environment. The village is known for its encouragement of spiritual freedom, and that includes a strong biophysical connection. This philosophy has guided the development and lifestyle of Auroville. It incorporates a host of sustainable practices which include:
- Compressed-earth building
- Rainwater harvesting
- Plant-based sewage treatment
- Solar and wind energy
Crystal Waters, Australia
Crystal Waters is a settlement that aims to actively combat the severe drought situation in Australia through permaculture. The village is home to over 200 residents who have worked together to literally create an oasis in the arid region of the country. This is accomplished by an intricate system of dams, channels, and rainwater harvesting facilities that feed into thriving lakes and rivers. The village also encourages a co-op culture, promoting agriculture, forestry, and an artisanal economy, creating a tight-knit, intradependent community.
Damanhur seamlessly blends technology and sustainability, and resembles a nation more than a village. It’s made of multiple smaller communities called nucleos, each specialising in a different sustainable practice. These include, but are not limited to:
- Solar energy
- Seed saving
- Organic meat production
- Sustainable medicine
Finca Bellavista, Costa Rica
Finca Bellavista is a network of off-grid, carbon-neutral treehouses located in the midst of a jungle. The primary focus of the village is to create a human-centric lifestyle without straining the environment, and as such a community has grown hand-in-hand with the rainforest that surrounds it. Not bad for a plot of land that was slated to become a timber harvest site!
Ecovillage at Ithaca, United States
Ecovillage at Ithaca was created to combine cooperative living with personal independence, and was created in the early 90s to provide an alternative to the traditional self-focused American lifestyle. Here, Green buildings, renewable energy sources, and cohousing communities are the norm. The commune also boasts an independent organic farm, space-preservation programs, and avenues for social entrepreneurship.
Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village (NPE), Cameroon
NPE is Cameroon’s first ecovillage. As the name suggests, it attempts to tackle food insecurity through permaculture — but with a twist. The community combines modern techniques with the values and traditions of pre-colonial Cameroon life, with a focus on:
- Organic fertilisation
- Innovative and organic techniques to combat wind and erosion
- Planting of consumable crops rather than cash crops
- Construction with local and natural materials
- Earthen and homemade domestic appliances
Urban Solutions for Urban Communities
While the above villages have made great strides towards a more sustainable lifestyle across the globe, their principles rarely take root in urban areas. Cityscapes simply don’t allow the same luxury of space and resources. However, they are home to networks of people, who with the right motivation can be geared towards making a difference. Some techniques that urban communities can use to reduce their carbon footprint are:
- Community gardens — A great way to bring the neighbourhood closer together, promote organic culture in big cities, and introduce fresh, local produce into urban homes
- Waste segregation — Significantly reduces the amount of harmful waste in landfills and trash heaps. And all that wet waste can be easily converted into compost for your local garden
- Rainwater harvesting — Especially beneficial in areas that face water shortage or drought. Nowhere was this more evident than in Cape Town, where the practice played a large part in managing the city’s water crisis
- Cleanliness committees — Motivates neighbourhoods to keep streets clean, reducing the amount of organic and chemical waste that leaches into the city’s soil and groundwater. It’s a small activity that can make a huge difference in the health of highly congested residential areas
Global climate change and environmental degradation is a very real problem — and they’re human-created problems that require human-centric solutions. That’s where community life and a community effort comes in. After all, how can we expect one person to fix an issue created by an entire planet?