Ecological Sustainability Requires a Cultural Revolution, Too

There’s something that’s been made increasingly apparent to me living in an ecovillage for the past year: environmental sustainability requires a change in culture. Society cannot achieve this sustainability through simplified living alone. Growing organic food, using renewable energy, and decreasing one’s ecological footprint are all positive things, no doubt, but true, holistic sustainability comes along with a culture that values cooperation and community.

At Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, there exists a unique culture distinct from that of mainstream society. Of course, this is to be expected: every group develops its own culture over time. (Think of something as ordinary as a college dorm or office: these places too have their own special microcultures.) Although it would be hard to define Dancing Rabbit’s culture and exactly what makes it what it is, there are certain shared values that certainly help to shape it.

Ecological sustainability is the core value of Dancing Rabbit’s culture. Beyond that, cooperation and a sense of community are highly esteemed values, too, and these are achieved in many ways.

The community operates on consensus decision-making. Each member has a say in deciding policies. Compared to democracy, in which the “majority rules”, there are no final decisions until each member agrees in a consensus community. This helps to create a sense of harmony, and brings the group closer to understanding one another.

Living so closely with other people, one learns how to communicate more clearly with each other. Non-violent communication (NVC) is highly valued at Dancing Rabbit. NVC is a communication process that attempts to achieve greater compassion and clarity: “a key principle of nonviolent communication that supports this is the capacity to express oneself without use of good/bad, right/wrong judgment, hence the emphasis on expressing feelings and needs, instead of criticisms or judgments.” Its usage is perhaps most clearly apparent in matters of conflict resolution.

Every culture has its own events and rituals. Underlying many events and rituals at Dancing Rabbit are ideals of cooperation and unity. For example, every Tuesday there is a potluck dinner with Sandhill Farm and Red Earth Farms, two neighboring intentional communities. Individuals and food co-ops each bring a dish or two to share with the whole group. On February 14th, Dancing Rabbit celebrates its own IC-version of Valentine’s Day called Validation Day. Members design cards for each other, and time is given for everyone to sign the cards and fill them with appreciation for one another. The cards are then passed out during a gathering, usually a brunch. Everyone gets their own special bit of attention and recognition.

What does all of this have to do with ecological sustainability? Sustainability is defined as the capacity to maintain a certain process or state indefinitely. Applied to the environment, sustainability means the ability for an ecosystem to continue indefinitely. It’s pretty obvious that mainstream, consumer-driven, capitalist American culture is not environmentally sustainable with its overall disregard for the well-being of natural ecosystems and resources.

Additionally, I would argue that mainstream America is not culturally sustainable. Though attempts may be made on a (typically) individual basis to become more ecologically sustainable, there exists a lack of group culture supporting these efforts. American culture is fractured and lacking the ideals of community and cooperation. What would society look like if more people were encouraged to work with, instead of against one another? Competition is fierce and all too common, and cooperation is rare but to be cherished in today’s world. Think of your immediate neighborhood, too. Just how many of your neighbors do you actually associate with? (Living in the suburbs, I knew maybe a handful of the people living on the same street as me. Doesn’t something seem wrong about that?) Can you call your neighborhood a real community?

Ecological sustainability requires cultural sustainability. And vice versa. They go hand in hand. They support one another. To more successfully achieve sustainability, a cultural revolution is required.

Let’s help craft a sustainable culture that values the environment, community, and working with one another.

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