GEM: the Global Ecovillage Movement

Imagine if you will, a village where people of all ages live together in harmony. Where diversity is celebrated and all villagers devote their goodwill, intelligence, capital and labour to meet the common goals of caring for the Earth, to live a peaceful and meaningful existence while honouring and nurturing all life-systems.

Where all villagers support and care for each other; where children are given the freedom, guidance and relevant education to reach their full potential; where each individual has a voice in decisions that affect them; where conflicts are resolved peacefully; where a constructive and rewarding livelihood can be gained without sacrificing time for family, friends, play, creativity, bonding and connecting with nature; where, aside from bartering certain goods with other villages, they are completely self-sufficient.

They grow their own food without harming the Earth, build their own dwellings with natural and local materials, generate their own electricity, and turn their own waste into nutriment for the land.

If you think it sounds a bit like a Utopian fantasy, you’re probably not alone. It’s ironic that despite the fact that such a place appeals to and touches most of us on a very deep level, there are very few of us who dare to dream about it, and perhaps even less who believe it can actually be achieved. Now what if, by choosing to live this way, you concurrently tackle and overcome many (and perhaps, in time, ALL) of the problems and suffering that humanity and the Earth are currently facing, while significantly improving your quality of life? You’d probably wonder what you’re waiting for!

“Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is more apparent because it makes so much ‘noise’.”
Eckhart Tolle

In the last decade or so a quiet revolution has been gaining strong momentum, quite overlooked by the media and government bodies. It is called the Global Ecovillage Movement (you might say “GEM”) and has been hailed as ‘the most important movement in human history’.

The type of village described above is a possible example of what has come to be known as an ecovillage. Succinctly speaking an ecovillage is an intentional community, where all are committed to living in harmony with nature and with each other. The definition given by the Fellowship for Intentional Community is “A group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values.” An ecovillage generally supports between 30-500 residents and can vary from a small tribe of Stone Age fruitarians (Terramana, Indonesia) to an extensive, high-tech international community with over 1500 inhabitants (Auroville, India).

The GEM is a global phenomenon responding to global causes. While ecovillages are an integral part of the anti-globalisation movement, rather than protesting and boycotting the corporate-political self-interest, the pioneers behind them are gently creating small sustainable communities with their limited resources and relentless commitment- walking their talk.

“Do not be afraid to build castles in the sky.
That is where they belong.
But once the dreams are in place,
Your job is to build the foundation under them.”
Henry David Thoreau

The few, more established ecovillages such as Findhorn (Scotland, est. 1962), The Farm (USA, est. 1971) and Crystal Waters (Australia, est. 1987) have become such focal points of an internationally growing interest that they are continually running courses and workshops. Perhaps their steep attendance fees are also a means of keeping the hordes at bay!

Intentional community is certainly nothing new. Native tribal villages and religious communities, with a common thread of self-reliance and spiritual reverence, have existed for millennia. Interestingly, the traditional rural villages of the South tend to grasp the revolutionary potential of ecovillages much quicker than those from the modern society. Since their social fabric and connection to Nature have remained relatively intact, they often recognise the ecovillage-model as complementary and enhancing to their village-based culture. Deplorably, many such villages are continually threatened, exploited and destroyed through commercial globalisation as the currently dominating quasi-liberal economic system remains completely unaccountable for the inestimable social and environmental devastation left in its tyrannical, toxic wake.

Meanwhile, in the North, many people are awakening to our shallow, careless and isolated existence that has become so fragmented and disconnected through spending negligible time in the wild; through separation of work and home; separation of rich and poor; crime in the streets, and living in constant fear. We have driven ourselves to the very brink of self-destruction for us to realise that it doesn’t have to be this way.

“This is the work for political avtivists who want to live their solutions. If we are to survive we will do so learning the ecstacy of community. We do have to get together.”
Patch Adams

Now the ramifications of an ever-increasing and ever-more consuming global population can no longer be denied or disguised by the corporate-political systems, whose wisdom is clearly inversely proportional to their accumulated material wealth. However, despite the fact that our dire situation is becoming widely acknowledged- even by the corporate-controlled media- it seems that the vast majority of people still remain unaware of the sacrifices and the immense changes in lifestyle that are necessary to insure our survival. And there are probably fewer still who are willing to make those changes.

At a time where the fate of our species rests upon the choices of a single generation, the strong (perhaps weaker in “alternative” circles) attachments to convenience are stubbornly maintained through refined forms of justification, avoidance, denial and suppression. No doubt the sky-rocketing mental stress levels are multiplied by the fact that deep down we all know that the current Western lifestyle of over-inflated consumption and social inequity is unsustainable and unjust and will sooner or later come to an end.

Independent media and publications, like Biophile, are in fact placing a huge burden on us because they’re providing us with true and vital information that, for those of us with integrity and who genuinely care, requires us to ACT upon. Nevertheless, in reality, it remains to be seen that the actions and the “sacrifices” that lead to less extravagant and wasteful living actually also lead to a more fulfilling, balanced and conscious lifestyle.

“To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.”

Fossil fuel-dependence underpins our modern “developing” society. Just in terms of our food supply, fossil fuels and petrochemicals are key to mass-scale food production, harvesting, transportation, and the energy required to cook it. Peak oil advocates say that when (within the next 5 years) the dwindling remains of the Earth’s oil reserve will cause its extraction to become unviable, the suburbs will become the slums of the future. But what of the cities and towns themselves?

Urban areas now hold more than half the world’s population. For all the jobs, facilities and entertainment they provide, these high-density residential and industrial zones are essentially extreme concentrations of consumption; specifically food, energy and water.
Moreover, there is little of life-supporting value that is produced there, not to mention the complete spectrum of pollution. Common sense and a basic understanding of natural systems dictate that one farmer producing food for 10,000 people- even (compromised) organically- is unnaturally disproportionate.

The combination of being so dependent on institutions and distant farms to meet our basic needs, leads, not only to disempowerment, but also to a very fragile and vulnerable situation. Then throw in the fact that the very system, to which so many are inextricably tied, is in and of itself not only ecologically destructive, but also completely unsustainable for future generations, and you have a sure recipe for ruin.

Admittedly, there are many noble attempts at sustainability within cities and towns — even entire ecovillages.

Yet, the question remains as to whether the inevitable demands of densely populated areas can ever be truly sustainable vis a vis the producer-consumer imbalance. As we gradually become more aware of this imbalance and how we often unconsciously or unwillingly support it, the motivation to “become the change we want to see” and the wish to live “closer to nature” will naturally result in the re-designing and re-organising of human lifestyles and settlements. Ecovillage living leads us to experience directly the results of all that we produce and consume in a truly holistic manner.

Bioregionalism, which is to have all your basic requirements met within walking or bicycling distance, is never so pertinently addressed as in an ecovillage setting. And the more diverse the community, the more chance that goods and services go way beyond basic needs to manifesting an exceptionally rich and stimulating environment with close friends, health care, entertainment, meaningful employment, social and community functions, theatre, art, dance, and spiritual practice- all provided with minimal impact on the natural environment. The point is that whether we embrace this lifestyle as a necessity or not, ecovillage living simply offers far more satisfying life conditions than the dominant Western model, as a closer examination would demonstrate to any curious citizen.

As yet, South Africa still only has a handful of emergent ecovillages though there is certainly growing interest. The climate, available land and abundant solar energy certainly offer impressive prospects for self-sufficient communities…

While, in theory, an ecovillage may sound enticing and straightforward, the reality is that to pioneer an ecovillage requires persistent conscious attention, physical work, commitment and patience. It’s a little known fact that 90% of all intentional communities disband or peter out within the first few years. Even as the challenges are indeed manifold, the biggest obstacle for many is to nurture and maintain an environment that grows harmoniously in the face of interpersonal dynamics.

One of the prominent concerns of our modern culture is our fragmentation. Due to our conditioned social alienation, when we come into an communal environment where we are required to integrate other people’s views and choices into many decisions that were previously made autonomously, we often feel that our sense of personal freedom is threatened or compromised. It is said that through moving from the Piscean into the Aquarian age, we will find much of our spiritual growth and transcendence through our relationships and social interactions.

Our progressive attitude towards disagreement and conflict finds an invaluable platform in intentional community. Through conflict we are invariably confronted with our own personal issues and mental conditioning. By honouring adversity as an opportunity for growth, through honest communication and commitment to resolution, we are confronting, on a practical level, our most deeply conditioned illusion of being separate from all that is.

The GEM is like a blueprint that’s being channeled on a planetary level, for humanity to not only continue living, but to flourish to our full potential as spiritual beings in the heavenly garden of Gaia. Through GEM’s crystalisation we are preparing the space for the birthing of a New Culture. Intriguingly, as human consciousness evolves, so does the GEM proportionately gain momentum and as this global shift becomes more prevalent, we are naturally designing and creating the most congenial environment for its manifestation.

In the larger scheme of things it’s quite uncanny how, in the entire history of humanity, we have simultaneously come to two precipices: One looming over a massive ecological cataclysm fuelled by an escalating war for the residual natural resources and further extreme examples of human ignorance; the other, a juncture in human evolution where we can release the colossal, yet subliminal, burden of fear and soar to an unprecedented realisation of consciousness. In truth, the former cannot be prevented without the latter.

The time for integrating ecological and spiritual consciousness is upon us and if we wish to welcome it into a space that truly nurtures and reflects our interconnectedness with all life-systems, then it is up to us to create it.

Ecovillage Living- Restoring the Earth and her People, edited by Hildur Jackson and Karen Svensson
Creating a life together, by Diana Leafe Christian
Creating Harmony, edited by Hildur Jackson