The way we live today would require one and a half Earths to sustain and we're currently on course to require three. After more than ten years of research and development, this proposal addresses the most vital issue of our time and offers a plan to ensure a sustainable future for all of Humanity.
Thanks to the work of organisations such as the Global Footprint Network, we now have quantified facts to support what some of us have intuitively suspected for some time … that Humanity is living beyond its means. (Ref.1)
The taking of natural resources at a faster rate than they can be regenerated coupled with the dumping of wastes into the environment at a faster rate than they can be absorbed (or more specifically, turned back into resources), amounts to an ecological overload that simply cannot be sustained.
The consequences of this relentless behaviour are becoming ever more self-evident. The fifth and final report recently published by the IPCC acknowledges that “Human influence on the climate system is clear” (Ref.2); And whilst some efforts are being made to curb the harm we are causing to our environment, for the most part it is 'business-as-usual'. (Ref.3)
Furthermore, it is the very lifestyle that the so called 'developed' world holds up as the ideal to which all others should aspire that is causing the greatest harm. The majority of developed countries (with the exception of Canada) consume far more than their fair share of natural resources. The UK, for example, is currently consuming around five times its actual bio-capacity. (Ref.4)
In contrast, whilst we in the developed world have the luxury of concerning ourselves with which foods to select from the vast range of international offerings on display at our local supermarket, there are literally millions of people on this planet who are going hungry; And when you look closely at the published figures for undernourishment around the World (i.e. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) you will see that none of the developed countries even register on their scale.
It is therefore quite understandable that the creature comforts we enjoy, and probably take for granted, are highly attractive to people in developing countries. However, with the global population destined to reach 11 billion (Ref.5), if they all end up following our example then we really are in trouble.
The “too many people” comment is an ugly reaction to this issue that I have heard many times and always from citizens of developed countries. However, when you take into account the fact that we are already operating at a level of consumption that would require one and a half Earth's to sustain (which obviously we don't have), then this approach would require us to actually reduce the population from what it is today. Quite how that would be achieved I shudder to think.
So clearly, continuing as we are is not an option and it would be completely unreasonable for us to expect others to suffer even more just so that we can carry on. As Hans Rosling concluded in his informative and highly entertaining BBC broadcast of last year (entitled: “DON'T PANIC – The Truth about Population”), it's futile trying to force others to not do what we're doing. Ask any parent, it just doesn't work. If we really want to influence others then the most effective way is to lead by example. Monkey see, monkey do.
So the responsibility in this case falls back upon us. We, of the developed world, need to figure this out amongst ourselves and actually become the example we'd be happy for everyone to follow. We need to come up with attractive, practical, working models that can be easily replicated throughout the World. We need to actually live a truly sustainable lifestyle.
Around the turn of the millennium, I found my thoughts and interests turning towards discovering a greater life purpose than simply making a living and pursuing a few hobbies. I began to feel a burning desire to experience the fullest expression of my true Self, whilst having little idea what that might actually look like. Eventually, a series of synchronistic events led me to go on, what I now understand to be, a 'vision quest'.
Three years later, I returned to the UK with a big pile of notes and within a few months, publicly announced the opening of the “University of Life”. That same year I published images of a conceptual design for an eco-pod entitled “The Personal Space”. I then travelled for a further three years which included a 17,000 land-mile tour around the United States. During this time I met and stayed with many leaders in the field of sustainable lifestyle.
Upon my second return to the UK, I began focusing on the details of a sustainable reality specifically within a UK context. Four years on a modest allotment provided valuable hands-on experience in growing vegetables and fruits, many from saved seed. After a significant amount of research, I registered a design for an off-grid Ecohome that exceeds the Passivhaus standard and could be constructed with British grown timber i.e. Larch, Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar.
All this gathered knowledge and personal experience now enables me to suggest, with a good degree of confidence, that a sustainable reality is available today. My proposal is to conduct an experiment of no less than five years to prove this theory.
I propose the creation of an ultra-low impact campus in the form of a 'pop-up' ecovillage, specifically for the purpose of modelling and developing sustainable lifestyle. Employing existing technologies (which includes money), the village is a practical, working model that illustrates exactly how Human Beings can live comfortably in harmony with nature. All residents are contractually committed to a core value system which acknowledges that all lives have equal value, that social harmony is a natural consequence of personal harmony and that the maintenance of this state is prioritised above all else.
Aesthetically pleasing, ultra-low impact structures (fabricated from sustainably sourced materials) provide individual shelters and communal facilities. These non-permanent structures are constructed in such a way that they can easily be dis-assembled and relocated. In addition to minimising delays in the local planning process, this feature allows for an organic development of the village layout as requirements change and ideas evolve.
The community collects its own water, grows its own food, processes its own waste, produces its own materials and generates its own electricity (from renewable sources). Those things that it does not produce, it sources from others in the most harmonious way. The resident 'students' (villagers) will make it their business to collaboratively compile, design, create and apply the most accurate methods of calculation for their ecological footprint. They will document their own performance throughout the experiment and monitor their own progress as their 'game' evolves. Upon satisfactory peer review, these records and methods will be made publicly available via the internet.
Each villager has dominion over half an acre. They are each furnished with a dwelling (pod), a green house, a shed and the basic gardening tools. The core syllabus is food production and all students are contractually obliged to actively participate. A multi-functional community centre, large enough for the entire village population to gather, incorporates an adequately sized cold storage facility so that excess produce can be deposited and withdrawn as required, enabling the village to optimise the value of its yield. By employing a thermally efficient design, it is anticipated that roof mounted solar panels would be perfectly capable of powering such a facility during the summer months and the winter deficit (along with any other peaks) would be covered using a willow-coppice-fuelled, steam-powered generator.
The village model is believed to be the most intrinsically sustainable form of Human settlement. In addition to satisfying the basic needs of food, shelter and energy, it offers a scale at which Human Beings can genuinely experience a sense of community. Whilst the optimum number of villagers is debatable, it is believed that 260 would be big enough to provide a good range of abilities whilst also being small enough for everyone to know each other and to gather under one roof.
I have budgeted for land costs on the basis of renting agricultural land at the current market rate. Income would be generated from the growing Ecotourism sector whereby Ecopods and Ecohomes are let out, offering a unique opportunity for visitors to immersively experience a working model of harmony.
Through participation in this living experiment, our confidence grows as we experience the benefits of this new reality and see for ourselves that it is not only viable but preferable. A genuine expression of health, wealth and happiness for all.
A more familiar household environment that offers a transitional experience, building the confidence of its occupants as they experience the reality of off-grid living.
Individual dwellings that provide a single occupant with a personal space (their own room) to experience their own energy and the reality of one room living.
Rainwater is a perfectly adequate source of fresh water if harvested correctly. Catchment surface areas and storage tanks need to be adequately sized, factoring in average rainfall for the location and individual consumption. Potable water is easily produced through Ultra Violet sterilization and filtration. Grey water is collected from sinks, showers, baths and washing machines, then filtered and re-used in non-potable applications such as garden irrigation (all soaps and detergents would of course be both non-toxic and bio-degradable).
Aside from the moral implications of slaughtering and eating our fellow creatures, meat production uses far more resources (per oz of nutrients) than plants. As there is no question that Humans can obtain all of their required nutrients from plants, it is therefore, for the duration of participation in this experiment, a contractually bound core requirement that all residents observe a vegetarian diet. Any deviation from this agreement will result in immediate expulsion.
In addition to the Vegetables and Fruits listed in the Garden area, there are edible seed crops that grow well in the UK such as Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rye, Millet, Hemp and Linseed. Then there are the nut trees i.e. Walnuts, Chestnuts and Hazelnuts. So by utilising glass houses, polytunnels and other techniques to extend the growing season, combined with appropriate storage facilities, it is entirely feasible to completely nourish a population purely from foods grown in a UK climate.
Solar panels can provide most of the electricity and heat required throughout the year. Excess energy is stored in Batteries and Thermal Stores for use in periods of low generation i.e. at night. In the midst of winter it may be necessary, and more practical, to burn coppiced wood (i.e. fast growing willow) for heat and power. Wood, if locally grown, only releases the CO2 it absorbed during its growth and can therefore be regarded as a Carbon Neutral energy source. Heat via stove with back-boiler and additional electricity via steam powered generator. Sugar Beet can also be grown in the UK and processed into Ethanol.
Locally grown timber from sustainably managed woodlands would be the primary material used to produce all structures. Metals and plastics are only used where there is no other viable eco-friendly material available for the particular application. i.e. plastic insulated copper wire for its safe and efficient conductivity of electricity. Crops such as Hemp and Flax (Linseed) produce fibres (from the stalk) with a range of qualities and can be grown in the UK. Page 2 of this report from King's College London lists the many modern uses of industrial Hemp. Flax fibre is used to make Linen and can even be used to make boats.
The Eco-home(s) and Eco-pods offer holidaymakers an attractive opportunity. By spending no more than they would in a guest house or hotel, they could immerse themselves in a unique experience and dip their toes into a world of sustainable lifestyle. In addition to the educational value of the information around them, they would witness, first hand, the techniques, technologies and practices that are collectively employed to facilitate a sustainable lifestyle; And, unlike other seasonally orientated holiday resorts, enjoying the indoor comforts available in an off-grid dwelling through the winter months would be just as valuable an experience. i.e. building confidence in it being a realistic year-round option for the UK climate.
Subscribers contribute £1 per week (by standing order) to support the leader's efforts and cover related expenses during the initial phase of the project. It also serves as a way of 'proving' (both to ourselves and to prospective landlords) that we have both the willingness and ability to cover the rent. Based on current UK farm rental prices (source: DEFRA), this amount is sufficient to cover the cost of renting agricultural land at 2 persons per acre (i.e. half an acre each). Once suitable land is secured (for min. 5 years) and available for occupation, villager subscriptions would increase to £35 per week. This equates to less than 6 hours per week at minimum wage and covers food and lodging. Food supplies would initially need to be bought in until our own food production begins to yield.
For the duration of a villager's residence/participation in the experiment, they will need to adhere to the following: