Blog Action Day: It Takes a Community to Cut Our Resource Use

building at dancing rabbit

I’ve often said myself (and certainly been reminded of it by others) that sustainable resource use in our contemporary culture is more of a journey than a destination: if we were to ever hit a point of consuming resources in a manner that allowed for natural replenishment, it would be decades in the future at minimum. We’re just not prepared to make the changes necessary to reach that point now.

Or are we? On the weekend of October 5-7, I made another trip up to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. In between board meetings (I sit on their non-profit’s board of directors) and celebrations of the community’s 15th anniversary on its land in Northeastern Missouri, I was reminded of the challenges people can overcome when they work together. Dancing Rabbit’s done many great things in its relatively short existence; one of the most impressive is dramatically cutting resource use without sacrificing quality of life.

We tend to focus on the technological aspects of such achievements, but as I prepared to write something for Blog Action Day, it occurred to me that community action (aka “the power of we”) was critical to this success. Consider the following elements of this community:

Residents commit to the village’s ecological covenants and sustainability guidelines

All communities have rules/laws that members are expected to follow. At DR,  members and residents are expected to live their lives in accordance with ecological covenants and sustainability guidelines established by the community. These “rules” aren’t completely inflexible – at least one current resident, for instance, has to drive to regular job – but they do form the basis for accepted lifestyle choices in the community. They also make creativity critical to living in the community: no one at DR wants to freeze in the dark, but they also want to achieve comfort in a manner that doesn’t create an undue burden on natural resources. One of the things that’s constantly surprised me is how comfortable the village is: I’ve never felt like I was sacrificing when I’ve stayed there.

Residents share resources

From land itself, to energy and water, to human capital, sharing is the norm at Dancing Rabbit. The cooperative is the most common form of social organization within the village, and residents form cooperatives to provide everything from hot meals to showers to internet service to their members. This ultimately means that less resources have to be used at the individual level: kitchens, for instance, are often built by cooperatives rather than incorporated into every home. No one’s required to forego such things, but because some have, others see a desired quality of life doesn’t have to involve individual resource consumption.

Residents work together

From building homes to planning human resources policies, the attitude of “pitching in” underlies much activity at Dancing Rabbit. As with other elements of the community, nothing is really required on this front… but a culture of contributing to the village’s success has grown with the community itself (now at 75 residents). While the community does look outward for some necessities (and that practice will likely grow with it), the notion of relying first on community members certainly saves resources: from fuel for traveling to tools for completing work, less is needed when you can turn to your neighbor for assistance (and s/he can do likewise with you). That mindset is perhaps best illustrated in the village’s plans for its new community building:

Certainly those who live at the village can better address some of these issues; I’m doing so as a (very impressed) outsider. What’s clear is that sustainability is possible right now… if we commit to it. Can that happen at the level of larger communities like cities, states, and countries? I don’t know… but I do know that we have at least one example of active sustainable livelihood that we can look to as a model.

We’re not the only Important Media site participating in Blog Action Day; check out the rest (which will go up throughout the day) over at Eat.Drink.Better.

Image credit: Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage on Facebook

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