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If everyone lived in an “ecovillage”, the Earth would still be in trouble

If everyone lived in the same way as Australians or North Americans we would need four or five planet Earths to sustain us.

This “ecological footprint” analysis shows that even the most “green” western European nations, with their more progressive approaches to renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport, would require more than three planets if everyone on Earth lived the way they do.

While this form of accounting is not without its critics ~ it is certainly not an exact science ~ the worrying thing is that many of its critics actually claim that it underestimates humanity’s environmental impact, including Mathis Wackernagel, the concept’s co-originator.

According to the most recent data from the Global Footprint Network, humanity as a whole is currently in ecological overshoot, demanding one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity.

Yet not even Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, probably the most famous ecovillage in the world, has been able to attain a ‘fair share’ ecological footprint.

An ecovillage can be broadly understood as an “intentional community” that forms with the explicit aim of living more lightly on the planet. Among other things, the Findhorn community has adopted an almost exclusively vegetarian diet, produces renewable energy and makes many of their houses out of mud or reclaimed materials.

An ecological footprint analysis was undertaken of Findhorn and found their consumption of resources, and emissions of waste, were far in excess of what could be sustained if everyone on Earth lived in this way. Part of the problem is that the community tends to fly as often as the ordinary Westerner, increasing their otherwise small footprint.

Put otherwise, if the whole world came to look like one of our most successful ecovillages, we would still need one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity.

This finding has serious implications for genuine sustainability!

In a full world of seven billion people and counting, a “fair share” ecological footprint means reducing our impacts to a small fraction of what they are today. Such fundamental change to our ways of living is incompatible with a growth-oriented civilisation.

Even after five or six decades of the modern environmental movement, it seems we still do not have an example of how to thrive within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet.

Among other things, this means living lives of frugality, moderation and material sufficiency. Unpopular though it is to say, we must also have fewer children, or else our species will grow itself into a catastrophe.

Nor is personal action enough. We must restructure our societies to support and promote these “simpler” ways of living. Appropriate technology must also assist us on the transition to one planet living. Some argue that technology will allow us to continue living in the same way while also greatly reducing our footprint.

However, the extent of “dematerialisation” required to make our ways of living sustainable is simply too great. As well as improving efficiency, we also need to live more simply in a material sense, and re-imagine the good life beyond consumer culture.

Can the descent from consumerism and growth be prosperous? Can we turn our overlapping crises into opportunities?

These are defining questions of our time.

Re-Post: If everyone lived in an “ecovillage”, the world would still be in trouble | The Fifth Estate

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