Simple Living High Thinking Communities
If it is true that the Age of Growth is over, and the Age of Entropy has begun, and if we are to retain any hope of a reasonable quality of life without destroying other people's, then our infrastructure, our settlements, our industries and our lives require total reconstruction.
- George Monbiot
Our dependence on oil grew over just 150 years. That’s a mere speck in time in the history of our world. This chapter is about downsizing when we can, which is better than doing it when we must.
The whole world is trying to imitate western lifestyle of extravagance and in the long run that has no future. Based on cheap oil we have developed an expansion economy in a now too full world. Industrialized life style is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The peak of oil production should also be the peak of globalization.
Looks like localized self-sufficient communities are the way to go.
Once again take the case of North America where the supply of natural gas is rapidly disappearing. In a reflection of this desperate (and demented) condition, Canada is now starting to divert some of its remaining natural gas to the manufacture of synthetic oil from tar sands, so as to ease the pressure on supplies of conventional petroleum. Given the prohibitive cost of building gas pipelines from Asia and Africa, the only practical way to get more gas supplies to North America would be to spend several hundred billion dollars (or more) on facilities for converting foreign sources of gas into liquified natural gas (LNG), shipping the LNG in giant doubled-hulled vessels across the Atlantic and Pacific, and then converting it back into a gas in "regasification" plants in American harbors. Although favored by the Bush administration, plans to construct such plants have provoked opposition in many coastal communities because of the risk of accidental explosion as well as the potential for inviting terrorist attacks.
Why make things so complicate? Why not encourage people to adapt to simpler and more peaceful life? Otherwise where will all these unending complex diplomacies and stopgap solutions will lead us to.
We seem to have a tendency to deal with problems on an ad hoc basis - i.e., to deal with 'problems of the moment'. This does not foster an attitude of seeing a problem embedded in the context of another problem.
Globalisation makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote, can cause problems for prosperous societies on other continents, and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilising).
George Monbiot rightly puts it, “I know this is also the way forward for the world. The urban-industrial complex as we know it will one day disappear. We’ll ultimately run out of oil. When this happens, the face of society will change. Then people will feel more dependent on powers beyond them, and to many that will mean developing a sense of God. But when the oil runs out, we don’t want to be left high and dry.”
Self-Sufficient, Localized, God Centred Communities
In this section, we will study a few self-sufficient communities.
Way back in 1974, Srila Prabhupada wrote:
“Our farm projects are an extremely important part of our movement. We must become self-sufficient by growing our own grains and producing our own milk. There will be no question of poverty. They should be developed as an ideal society dependent on natural products, not industry.” (Srila Prabhupada, Letter dated December 18, 1974)
New Vrindaban is an ISKCON (Hare Krishna) rural community located in Moundsville, West Virginia. It functions as a spiritual pilgrimage center which attracts people from all over the world, and also as a community striving to enact a model of self-sufficiency based on spiritual ideals and practices. New Vrindaban is named after the Indian town of Vrindavan.
The community was founded in 1968 by His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to create an atmosphere of "Simple Living and High Thinking". New Vrindaban is meant to present to the rest of the world a return to Vedic village living, depending on the land, the cow, and ultimately upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. This community is meant to be based on God consciousness, simplicity, enlightened agriculture, cow protection, and ox power.
New Vrindaban is a strictly vegetarian community, in order to facilitate spiritual growth. It is believed in the philosophy of Krsna Consciousness that reactions due to meat consumption create negative karma. The intention was also to set a proper example of sustainability to other similar intentional communities and to the general public.
After few years of ups and downs and controversies, New Vrindaban today is one of ISKCON's most well-known and well-visited (over 40,000 visitors a year) temples in North America.
Devotees stay in a three-story temple/ashram, where they practice devotional activities to the presiding Deities, Sri-Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra, who were installed at New Vrindaban on Janmastami, August 13, 1971. These activities of devotional service include kirtan (congregational chanting of the Holy Names of the Lord, and the cooking and offering of prasadam, vegetarian foodstuffs offered to the Deities. It is believed this process allows for a subtle spiritual essence to enter the foodstuffs to aid the spiritual advancement of anyone who partakes of it. Other activities include pujari, or priestly duties done for the Deities (like dressing, bathing, offering of different articles like incense), fundraising, preaching to visitors, temple and grounds maintenance, and spiritual educational programs.
The large acreage on the New Vrindaban property also supports a number of agrarian projects. Over 80 cows are kept in a protection program that allows them to live out their natural life without being slaughtered. Two agricultural projects, the S.A.N.T.E.E. (The Sustainable Agricultural Network for Training and Environmental Education) Teaching Garden (1 acre) and the Garden of Seven Gates (6.5 acres) provides the community with locally-grown organic produce, herbs, and other natural products.
Devotees at New Vrindaban also travel to local universities to do vegan/vegetarian cooking classes and seminars on Krishna consciousness and other spiritual topics and lifestyle choices. A few devotees based at New Vrindaban also travel across America distributing the books of Prabhupada and other Krishna conscious literature.
We can mention couple of more communities in Europe which are based on the principle of voluntary simplicity, of course without a spiritual theme at their core.
Vauban Community, Germany
Car Free Living
It’s pickup time at the Vauban kindergarten here at the edge of the Black Forest, but there’s not a single minivan waiting for the kids. Instead, a convoy of helmet-donning moms - bicycle trailers in tow - pedal up to the entrance.
Welcome to Germany’s best-known environmentally friendly neighborhood and a successful experiment in green urban living. The Vauban development - 2,000 new homes on a former military base 10 minutes by bike from the heart of Freiburg - has put into practice many ideas that were once dismissed as eco-fantasy but which are now moving to the center of public policy.
With gas prices well above $6 per gallon across much of the continent, Vauban is striking a chord in Western Europe as communities encourage people to be less car-dependent.
“Vauban is clearly an offer for families with kids to live without cars,” says Jan Scheurer, an Australian researcher who has studied the Vauban model extensively. “It was meant to counter urban sprawl - an offer for families not to move out to the suburbs and give them the same, if better quality of life. And it is very successful.”
There are numerous incentives for Vauban’s 4,700 residents to live car-free: Carpoolers get free yearly tramway passes, while parking spots - available only in a garage at the neighborhood’s edge - go for 17,500 (US$23,000). Forty percent of residents have bought spaces, many just for the benefit of their visiting guests.
As a result, the car-ownership rate in Vauban is only 150 per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with 430 per 1,000 inhabitants in Freiburg proper.
In contrast, the US average is 640 household vehicles per 1,000 residents. But some cities - such as Davis, Calif., where 17 percent of residents commute by bike - have pioneered a car-free lifestyle that is similar to Vauban’s model.
Vauban, which is located in the southwestern part of the country, owes its existence, at least in part, to Freiburg - a university town, like Davis - that has a reputation as Germany’s ecological capital.
In the 1970s, the city became the cradle of Germany’s powerful antinuclear movement after local activists killed plans for a nuclear power station nearby. The battle brought energy-policy issues closer to the people and increased involvement in local politics. With a quarter of its people voting for the Green Party, Freiburg became a political counterweight in the conservative state of Baden-Württemberg.
At about the same time, Freiburg, a city of 216,000 people, revolutionized travel behavior. It made its medieval center more pedestrian-friendly, laid down a lattice of bike paths, and introduced a flat rate for tramways and buses.
Environmental research also became a backbone of the region’s economy, which boasts Germany’s largest solar-research center and an international center for renewable energy. Services such as installing solar panels and purifying wastewater account for 3 percent of jobs in the region, according to city figures.
Little wonder then, that when the French Army closed the 94-acre base that Vauban now occupies in 1991, a group of forward-thinking citizens took the initiative to create a new form of city living for young families.
Across Europe, similar projects are popping up. Copenhagen, for instance, maintains a fleet of bikes for public use that is financed through advertising on bicycle frames.
But what makes Vauban unique, say experts, is that “it’s as much a grass-roots initiative as it is pursued by the city council,” says Mr. Scheurer. “It brings together the community, the government, and the private sector at every state of the game.”
As more cities follow Vauban’s example, some see its approach taking off. “Before you had pilot projects. Now it’s like a movement,” says Mr. Heck. “The idea of saving energy for our landscape is getting into the basic planning procedure of German cities.”
Copyright © 2006 The Christian Science Monitor
Tinkers Bubble Community
Tinkers' Bubble is 40 acres of woodland, orchards and pasture in south Somerset, England. It was bought by a group of environmentalists in 1994, and a dozen people moved in, applied for shares and built themselves temporary houses.
They imposed a strict set of rules on themselves, which included a ban on the use of internal combustion engines on the land. They made a partial exception for transport: the 12 residents share two cars.
Otherwise, the only fossil fuel they consume is the paraffin they put in their lamps. They set up a small windmill and some solar panels, built compost toilets, and bought a wood-powered steam engine for milling timber, some very small cows and a very large horse.
The first winter was spent wading around in two feet of mud. Some of the locals, mistaking the settlers for new age travellers, went berserk. There was plenty of internal strife as well.
The work is tough. They fell trees with handsaws, heat their homes with wood, cut the hay with scythes and milk the cows, weed the fields and harvest the crops by hand.
But they have come through. They have made friends with the locals, who are coming to see the project as an asset: the land is biodiverse, still has standing orchards, and is open to the public.
Their stall has won first prize in the local farmers' market. They have learned, often painfully, to live together. Because it doesn't depend on heavy machinery, this farm, unlike most, isn't in hock to the bank. - George Monbiot
"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the human race. It's a start, but I'd feel even more confident about our chances of survival if I saw George Bush and Dick Cheney sharing a car to work.”
- HG Wells
“I believe the long-term solution requires nothing less than the gradual abandonment of the lethal techniques, the uncongenial lifeways, and the dangerous mentality of industrial civilization itself. This would imply the end of the giant factory, the huge office, perhaps of the urban complex.”
-Economist Robert Heilbroner