‘Ecovillages’ Author Comes to PSU

On Jan. 10 Karen Litfin, a political science and environmental studies professor at the University of Washington, gave a presentation on her new book, Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community, in the Market Center Building at Portland State. The presentation was part of a tour consisting of 40 talks across the nation.

Litfin’s book discusses 14 ecovillages across the world, each one built with environmental sustainability in mind. Each ecovillage can be differentiated by the set of values shared by the residents.

“What’s unusual about my book is that it’s global. A lot of the time people think of ecovillages as very local,” Litfin said.

Auroville, for example, is a community of about 2,000 people from all over the world and was established in South India in 1968. Its goal is to “embody the spiritual ideal of human unity,” according to Litfin’s website.

Another ecovillage, Damanhur, is a community of 600 located in northern Italy with an emphasis on technology-based ecological preservation; it includes a molecular biology lab.

Even Oregon has its own ecovillages. There are six ecovillages listed in the Fellowship for Intentional Community directory for Portland, and even more in other Oregon cities. However, all of the ecovillages in the book are outside of Oregon, across five continents.

Litfin, who has been teaching political science and environmental studies at University of Washington for 12 years, has also published two other books—UOzone Discourses: Science and Politics in International Environmental Cooperation, and The Greening of Sovereignty in World Politics, which is her third book on environmental issues.

She also spent a year traveling through ecovillages, spending between two weeks and a month in places like India, Sri Lanka and different parts of Africa.

The actual writing of Ecovillages took place over a span of several years, and the ecovillages selected for her book represent a wide range of cultural, racial and geographic diversity, Litfin said.

“I took the journey from 2007 to 2008, and it’s taken me this long to write the book,” she said. “I studied ecovillages for a couple of years before I did my journey, and I did a lot of research through the [Global Ecovillage Network]. I decided to try to get the widest possible selection in terms of diversity.”

Organizations like the Global Ecovillage Network and the Transition Network help unify ecovillages in their goals and share progress. Litfin worked with the GEN to plan out her trip through different ecovillages.

In her book, Litfin uses four lenses to talk about ecovillages—ecology, economics, community and consciousness, which she calls E2C2.

“These are the four lenses you have to look at anything through,” she said. “These are the ways you understand the world. I think the talk will be somewhat organized around this. Across all of this diversity, the ecovillages are all very different places that are all thinking in the same ways.”

By spreading the knowledge she gained from ecovillages, Litfin hopes to encourage others to do similar work for environmental sustainability.

“My objective in traveling to universities is to inspire people for a vision that could actually work in the long haul. I’m interested in kind of showing beautiful pictures and telling beautiful stories and addressing some of the problems that come with ecovillage life.”

For her book, Litfin interviewed residents of the different ecovillages, a process that took about three hours.

“Every single day I was surprised. I learned a lot. One community had just started three years earlier, and they experienced their first death the day after I arrived,” Litfin said.

Litfin notes that her book can be read as a story of her travels and an environmental story.

“I want people to take away whatever they want to take away from the book. People read a book for many different reasons.”