Inside USD

Ecovillages are Changing the Game

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

“Ecovillages are changing the game.”

Dr. Karen Litfin, an acclaimed author and political science professor at the University of Washington, offered this statement to an audience of students, faculty, and community members at the University of San Diego this past Thursday evening. For Litfin, the game is life on Earth, infinite sustainability for a planet with finite resources. Author of the book, Ecovillages Around the World, Litfin selected 14 ecovillages in several countries to study the successes and failures of supporting a sustainable community. In her travels, Dr. Litfin explored the integration of ecology, economy, community and consciousness in ecovillages that were rural and urban, religious and secular, as well as rich and poor. She studied ecovillages in North America, Europe, Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, and Japan. These communities clearly cover a diverse range of culture, economic class, and religious practice.

What, then, could possibly unite them? And how, exactly, are they changing the game of life?

“Ecovillages are changing the game by changing the story,” Litfin explained to a questioning audience. She continued to clarify that ecovillages are shifting the story of life on Earth from finite to infinite, from a game with winners and losers to one that never ends. Through a process that she calls the “Politics of Yes,” ecovillages focus energy on positive changes to create a sustainable ecosystem, rather than negative protests to criticize current circumstances.

As she traveled throughout the world, Litfin observed that each of these ecovillages contributes something different to the study of sustainability. She studied a community in Germany that uses animals instead of machinery, a society in Sri Lanka that rebuilt itself following a tragic tsunami, and even an ecovillage in New York that explores the sustainability of the American Dream. An ecovillage in North Carolina relies on social trust rather than the cash economy, while a community in Italy studies interactions with plants to perpetuate sustainability. All of these communities, Litfin noted, contribute something positive to the game of infinite sustainability.

At the same time, these ecovillages also explore the issues of shifting to an entirely sustainable way of life. These communities shed light on human relationships, exposing the vulnerabilities of social trust that can create conflict in a self-reliant system. However, these ecovillages have found interesting ways to resolve conflict, from meditation to a shift from consensus to majority decision making. The beauty of these ecovillages is the example they offer to the world: they create a sustainable community while working through the social issues that may arise.

“We are moving out of the age of separation,” Litfin remarked in the final part of her presentation, emphasizing that the world is shifting from a movement of individualism to interdependence. It’s time to change the game, she stressed, and “essential to changing the game is to change your sense of purpose.” In the movement for sustainability, ecovillages light the path for the future, revitalizing old skills, uniting diverse populations, and celebrating humanity by shifting the story of life on Earth from finite to infinite. As a campus of Changemakers, the University of San Diego has the power to revitalize the sustainability movement. All it takes is a change in a sense of purpose.

Following Dr. Litfin’s presentation, it is abundantly clear that ecovillages are changing the game. Now, it’s time for everyone to start playing.

– Kristen Darling ‘ 15

For more information on Dr. Karen Litfin and ecovillages, visit or

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