Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Summer of Sustainability, Part IV

This is my fourth entry in a six-part blog series on sustainability.

Sometimes all roads seem to point in one direction. This summer I've been having that experience with the concept of sustainability: assessing where we are now, what will be possible in 30 years, and how do we get from here to there.

The basic premise I'm working with is that humans are rapidly exhausting our supply of accessible resources, such that something has to give. That is, it is not even remotely possible that we can continue for another generation the materialistic lifestyle we're become accustomed to in the US—unless we're willing to forcibly deny the
equitable distribution of what's left and to tolerate massive suffering elsewhere in service to the status quo. Rather than continuing the charade that underlies the bumper sticker "How did our oil get under their sand?", I've started looking at two questions: a) How to create a vibrant, satisfying lifestyle that uses only 10% of the resources that the average American is currently consuming; and b) How to peacefully navigate the social challenges that such a massive shift will require.

These questions affect me both on the personal level (how will I live, and what am I called to do to help society to a softer landing in the decades ahead) and on the professional level (what role should FIC play in education and preparation; what is my role as a process consultant to better prepare groups to handle what's coming).

When thinking about sustainability, I like the metaphor of a three-legged stool: there's a ecological leg, a social leg, and an economic leg—and you won't have a very stable piece of furniture unless you have three stout legs. I am interested in what it takes to develop strong legs, and also the integration of the whole, so that the stool will be a tool.

As this is a big, all-encompassing topic, I'm going to tackle it in a six-part series, roughly in the order in which I've been bumping into this conversation over the past two months. Here's the outline:

Proposal to build a working model of sustainability
II. The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World by Ted Trainer
III. Sustainability and Cohousing
IV. EDE Course at Dancing Rabbit in 2012
V. Increasing sustainability offerings on campus
VI. Transition Towns

• • •

EDE Course at Dancing Rabbit in 2012

My wife, Ma'ikwe, was part of a four-person team that taught the full Ecovillage Design Education curriculum for the first time in the United States. She, Zaida Amaral, Rich Ruster, and Robert Griffin did this in Albuquerque in 2007-08. Sadly, no else has done it since. Many have taught portions of the curriculum but the whole shebang has only been offered in the US the one time… so far.

Next summer, Ma'ikwe plans to deliver this four-course meal for a second time—at her home, Dancing Rabbit, June 30-Aug 5. The deadline to submit applications to be a part of the faculty for this course closed yesterday, and it was satisfying that so many who live in the tri-communities (Dancing Rabbit, Sandhill Farm, and Red Earth Farms—who all share the same zip code) put their hat in the ring. As the lead teacher (or GEESE, standing for Global Ecovillage Educators for a Sustainable Earth), Ma'ikwe will be making the call on who's selected for which roles and then submitting an application to GEN (Global Ecovillage Netwrok) in Sept, hoping to get the course fully authorized.

As GEN has conceived of it, the curriculum is divided into four major components, all of which interrelate: worldview, ecological, social, and economic. Among the most important choices that Ma'ikwe faces will be selecting the coordinators for each of the four dimensions. These people, in turn, will be responsible for choosing the specific topics to be taught in their area and by whom. The aim in each case will be to achieve a breadth of perspectives and a balance of voices and genders.

Even though we're only at the beginning stages, and the 37 days of total immersion are more than 10 months off, it's exciting to commit to a program that builds directly on Dancing Rabbit's intent to be a model of sustainability. All three of the tri-communities have an explicit outreach element in their mission, and this course will be our strongest effort yet to go beyond witnessing to teach the theory and inspiration of sustainability, based on what we're doing.

The beauty of offering this course in the tri-communities is that for many of the teaching points we'll be able to simultaneously offer the thinking and a practical demonstration—in some cases, with examples of how to apply the same principle with variations. We'll also be able to discuss many of the tough choices we've had to face over the years, balancing quality of life, reliance on technologies we cannot maintain fully ourselves, and the desire to minimize resource use.

For all those selected to be part of the delivery team, we'll be getting paid doing work that's both close to our hearts and close to home. How much better can it get?

If this goes well, Ma'ikwe hopes to offer this course on an annual basis. The question will not be whether we have a good enough venue, or a good enough faculty—it's be whether we have enough students. On the plus side, Dancing Rabbit is a prime attraction for people hungry for examples of communities pushing the envelope of resource-conscious self-sufficiency. In addition, most of the faculty will be local and $20/hour in salary goes a long way in northeast Missouri, where the cost of living is quite low.

On the challenging side, it's not easy for people to carve out 37 days. If you have the time by virtue of being a student, or a recent graduate who hasn't located regular employment, then you're less likely to have the financial reserves to be able to afford the course. If you have the time because you're retired, it's daunting to face the prospect of living in a tent smack in the middle of a hot and humid Missouri summer (you may have noticed that my state is a near homophone for "misery"—it's in summer that this occurs to me most frequently).

While Rutledge has become something of a destination for people seeking examples of sustainable rural living, it's not on the way to anywhere, and people don't tend to just wander in. You have to go there on purpose, and the EDE course will be a test of how many will find enough purpose to make the trek next summer. If this purpose pleases you, you can get more information by contacting Ma'ikwe:

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