Environmentalists seem to talk endlessly about sustainability. On one hand it makes sense, using natural resources sparingly so they can replenish themselves is wise practice. But is anyone doing this, or is it all just talk?
While it is far from Utopia, the community where i now live comes closer to actually doing something about sustainability than anyplace i have ever been. It starts with the practical stuff. We live on a farm, we grow well over half of our own food, all organic polycultures with relatively little heavy machine use. One of my great sadness' living in Brno was seeing the ever increasing amount of EU produced food arriving at the farmers market, covered with pesticides, having traveled often thousands of kilometers from giant monoculture fields. One of the on-going debates in the community is about vegetarianism, we have cows and will soon have chickens which are used for milk and eggs, but are also eaten. Brushing aside the ethical issue of treatment of animals, my original reason for not eating meat was that the whole world could not live as i did. But done as it is here, my carnivorous desires are gnawing at my objections.
The great success of the western marketing culture has been convincing people that greed is good and that everyone should own all of the things that they use. This is the road to ecocide. For me it is definitional that people in communities share things. There are personal possessions at Twin Oaks, but the vast majority of what we have is collectively owned and maintained. One of my favorite parts is "Community Clothes" where large racks of garments are available for people to take from, wear as long as they like and return to the collective laundry, where they get returned to the racks clean and fixed if necessary. People have private cloths if they like, but many people choose this simpler shared approach.
We have cars here - 15 for the 75 adults in the community. This ownership ratio is at least 1/3 of the US national average and while i have not gathered the data for exact calculations, my guess is we travel less than one tenth the number of miles in cars than our typical Yankee counterpart. International readers must remember that this is a rural US setting, the nearest bus stop is 40 km away, the nearest train is 60 km.
Beyond these practical things there are cultural choices that are hopeful. There is a very high consciousness around recycling and reuse of things, with the supporting infrastructure for it. The community works hard towards being egalitarian, meaning no individual has more rights or access to wealth than others living here. This is achieved in part by having a money-less internal economy, where everyone agrees to work the same number of hours for the community in exchange for which the community covers all of its members needs, from health insurance to completing taxes (an often complex task in the US), from building maintenance to social events.
The other half of egalitarianism is avoiding hierarchical as much as possible. The industries are structured so workers are basically responsible for their own schedules. One of the advantages and occasional problems of Twin Oaks is that you can not really force people to do anything - but largely everything gets done by people volunteering to do it. If anything is going to take us down the road to sustainability, it is people choosing to do the things they know need to be done, rather than being commanded or forced to do things.