The Role of Ecovillages in (Avoiding) the Coming Global Collapse

In “What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?,” Jeremy Lent writes:

[In November 2017] more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the Earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told 25 years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday.

The question is, then, what if anything can we do to avoid collapse? Our friend and EcovillageNJ founder Steve Welzer writes:

Here are some excerpts of the author’s views, followed by my commentary:

“There are radically different ways for a society to function effectively that could apply to nations around the world if given half a chance. A flourishing future might involve more cooperative ventures, protection and expansion of the commons, and enhanced global governance with strict penalties for those who destroy ecological wellbeing. Collapse isn’t the only future in store for humanity—it’s merely the one we’re headed for unless and until we change course.

“The only thing that will truly avert collapse will be a radical restructuring of the economic system that is driving us ever more rapidly to that precipice. This will only come about when enough of us are ready to jettison the consumer values that pervasive mainstream culture foists on us. In their place, we need to find other sources for meaning in our lives: growing the quality of our experiences rather than our consumption, building our communities together and reconnecting with the natural world.

“On that basis, we’ll be better equipped to join in the struggle to save humanity—and the rest of the Earth—from the plundering envisaged by the perpetual growth frenzy of global corporate capitalism. There are plenty of alternative paths available to us—we just don’t hear about them because they never get the media’s attention. There is valuable work being done around the world in visualizing a future based on different principles than the current Ponzi scheme. Well-developed plans to avert climate breakdown include a state-by-state and nation-by-nation pathway to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and a Climate Mobilization Victory Plan to restructure the U.S. economy in a manner similar to what FDR accomplished after Pearl Harbor.”

The article has noble aspirations, but, at the same time, indicates how relatively little has been accomplished since the noble aspirations of the Earth Summit of 1992. Of course, you can look back even further, 45 years, to the “watershed” 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm and the related publication of the “Blueprint for Survival.”

Changing the toxic and unsustainable civilizational trajectories that characterize our social existence is the most important task in the world. Every effort to do so should be applauded and every reform that can get implemented should be fought for. But we’re better off having a realistic perspective than having our pipedreams disappoint us. Unfortunately (and, alas, typically) the article linked above is full of pipedreams.

Forty-five years since 1972 is almost two generations. Relative to what will be needed to avoid collapse, a fraction has been accomplished. The truth is that the trajectories that are so problematic (re: population, pollution, consumption/depletion, disparities of wealth and power) have gone way beyond alleviation via policy prescriptions. There isn’t going to be worldwide transformational “system change” based on election of progressive governments or based on an enlightened revolution.

For one thing, all has become so hypertrophied that, at this point, “we” can’t “make decisions together.” “We” (globally) are 7.6 billion — including four billion adult human beings with four billion slightly different ideas regarding What Is To Be Done. “Americans” are two hundred million adults with two hundred million different ideas. On these scales, people are atomized; they don’t constitute any kind of effective collective; the power of the civilizational-historical trajectories and the power of the moneyed interests are overwhelming.

Yes, try to resist the Trumps, try to resist the system, but . . .  get real. Collapse is unavoidable. It’s the story of the next upteen centuries. Whatever time and money you have for salvage activism, give half to resisting and reforming the system; give the other half to the slow, patient work of building the new society within the shell of the old.

We CAN make decisions together, restore sanity, find meaning and life-satisfaction . . . AT AN APPROPRIATE SCALE. So: rebuild, rejuvenate, revitalize communities. That’s a realistic perspective in regard to the questions of “saving the planet,” “saving humanity” and “radically changing course.” It’s long-range, it’s incremental, it’s prosaic (not dramatic), but it really can be done — and it really must be done.

AddendumAdditional thoughts in regard to: “So: rebuild, rejuvenate, revitalize communities.”

Ecovillages should be seen as models. It’s not as if the goal is to have everyone live in an ecovillage. The idea, rather, is that the models can inspire the rejuvenation of existing neighborhoods.

Revitalize existing neighborhoods and make them back into real communities. This would constitute a significant civilizational turn. In that respect the Transition Towns movement could be as important as the ecovillage movement.

How hard all of this is to achieve (and how long the process will take) is indicated by (a) the slow pace of the establishment of ecovillages, and (b) the lack of resonance for Transition.
The Transition idea is essentially very simple: people who live in a town or neighborhood “engage their communities in home-grown, citizen-led education and action to increase local self-reliance and resilience. They succeed by regeneratively using their local assets, innovating, networking, collaborating, replicating proven strategies, and respecting the deep patterns of nature and diverse cultures in their place. Transition Initiatives work with deliberation and good cheer to create a fulfilling and inspiring local way of life that can withstand the shocks of rapidly shifting global systems.”
It takes almost no money. You don’t have to buy land or hire professionals. You simply come together with others in your immediate area to endeavor to do whatever you can to foster sustainability and revitalize community life. . . . says there are “163 official US initiatives and 1198 initiatives worldwide.” But the truth is that most are not very active. In fact, after some significant interest about five years ago most are withering. Why? I think it’s because people have lost a sense of place — and a commitment to caring about a particular place-on-earth — to such an extent that they can’t relate to a project to commit, care, and revitalize. Most people can no longer even conceive of such a thing. Hypermobility is now the norm. What commitment there is is to immediate family and to career. Heads are in cyberspace and the media fog. There’s no interest in news from down the block . . . the news comes from Washington, New York, London, and Moscow. No interest in nature. It exists “out there somewhere” or under the pavement. 

That’s what we’re up against. That’s why we need to have patience and just keep chipping away (at consciousness). We’re becoming recognized as “the ecovillage folks” in the state of New Jersey. I think we’ll want to broaden that identification to “the community renewal folks” in addition. We should strive to have our Meetups, our publications, and our projects. Making it social and making it fun is important — because the actual tangible progress in regard to “turning the ship of state” is going to be a very incremental process. What we realistically can do is: Build up a lot of good will, foster a moderate amount of consciousness change, effectuate a little bit of real transformation.

I like this a lot; in fact it’s pretty much what I believe also. And I invite you to look at it as “our” ecovillage philosophy, if the people visiting this site and attending the Meetups want to know “what we really think.” This is it.

[Note: Portions of this article were originally published on Facebook at]

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