In 1998, Alan Weisman , author of the New York Times bestseller The World Without Us , was a science reporter for National Public Radio. That year he visited the South American village of Gaviotas.
Founded by scientists and engineers in the 1970s, Gaviotas started off as arid plains and became a lush and verdant oasis—a petri dish of ecological innovation and cheap, practical inventions. Simple things like a covered well with a double action pump that, incredibly, taps water six times deeper than normal models; a design for a stackable, interlocking plastic bottle to package and ship their pure, abundant water to neighboring towns, and which can then be filled with sand and recycled into building blocks; solar panels that use the region’s diffuse light to heat water; highly efficient windmills; and more.
By planting non-native species of trees where nothing in particular was growing, Gaviotans actually helped long-dormant native species recover and even thrive. In this way Gaviotas dramatically proved sustainable polyculture’s superiority to standard mono-agriculture.
Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
WEISMAN: By the moonlight I can see it – a forest rising up from this formerly empty plain. Twelve years ago researchers discovered that pines from Honduras thrive in these thin soils. Since then, Gaviotas has planted more than a million. Instead of cutting them for timber, they’re selling the renewable sap for making paint and turpentine. They don’t earn as much money this way, but Gonzalo reminds me, that’s not the point.
[GONZALO SPEAKING IN SPANISH]
TRANSLATOR: We believe austerity is a better path to happiness and to man’s comfort. In Colombia’s oil camps, what have they gotten? Prostitution and alcoholism, because salaries are too high. Then the oil is gone. What’s left is misery.