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Chelsea Green Blog

Alan Weisman Tells the Story of Gaviotas

In the following article, Alan Weisman, author of the New York Times bestseller The World Without Us and Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, tells the stories of Gaviotas—the book and the village. Nearly two decades ago, while covering a rather harrowing story for the New York Times Magazine, I unexpectedly came across a living example of how humans might actually be able to strike a harmonious, sustainable bargain with our natural surroundings. To this day, the village of Gaviotas in the remote eastern savannas of war-torn, drug-ridden Colombia remains the most hopeful portent I’ve ever seen amidst the hell that too often defines our modern world. Subsequently, I produced a piece about Gaviotas for NPR’s All Things Considered, wrote another for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and then finally returned to research my book Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World. In the decade since it was published, I’ve been continually invited to speak at colleges and universities in the United States and beyond. Gaviotas is perennially assigned in departments of urban planning, engineering, environmental studies, tropical ecology, Latin American Studies, journalism, science writing, and literature, among others, and entire curricula for high school students and incoming college freshman programs have been based around it. Repeatedly, I hear from faculty that even students who typically shun reading will devour this true story that reads like a novel, filled with real, fascinating characters who show what imagination can accomplish even in the most difficult settings. As the Gaviotans themselves told me: “If we can do it in Colombia, you can do it anywhere.”  Yet in discussions and hundreds of letters, I’m always asked how Gaviotas has fared – and whether it has actually survived – amid the awful civil war that enflamed their country in the ensuing years since my book. Many have wanted to travel there, but even I, despite many past trips with Colombian guerrillas, have been dissuaded by some of the world’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates.  Yet through messages, phone calls, and communiqués from Colombian journalists, each year I could report that miraculously, in this community whose single defense was its acknowledged defenselessness – the only rule at Gaviotas is that no guns are allowed – no one had succumbed to the violence that bloodied their nation. As the tenth anniversary of my book’s publication approached, I decided it was time to see for myself.  Last March, I flew to Bogotá and chartered a plane across the Andes, out to Gaviotas.  I’m pleased to say that my expanded afterword to this 10th anniversary edition of Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World reports not only how they’ve managed to survive, but how they are conjuring ingenious new ways so that even the rest of us might actually thrive in this challenging new century.


Why Modern Wheat Is Making Us Sick

Why is modern wheat making us sick?  That’s the question posed by author Eli Rogosa in her new book Restoring Heritage Grains.Wheat is the most widely grown crop on our planet, yet industrial breeders have transformed this ancient staff of life into a commodity of yield and profit—witness the increase in gluten intolerance and ‘wheat […] Read More

A Dictionary to Survive the Future

When British economist David Fleming died unexpectedly in 2010, he left behind his great unpublished work, a masterpiece more than thirty years in the making—an intellectually evocative and inspiring dictionary, Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It. In it, Fleming examined the consequences of an economy that destroys the very foundations—ecological, […] Read More

Overshoot, Collapse, and Creating a Better Future

In 2016, Earth Overshoot Day happened on August 8—the day when we’ve exhausted the planet’s resources for the year, and are essentially borrowing from future years to maintain our existence today.Perhaps you celebrated this day with a counter-solution: a vegetarian meal, telecommuted, or turned off the air conditioning. There’s a lot more you could be […] Read More

Plants & Pests: Will Bonsall’s Advice on “Wee Beasties” in the Garden

“From a plant’s point of view there is little difference between a cutworm, a woodchuck, a blight spore, and, for that matter, us.”“These are all things that in one way or another prey upon it. It is an inevitable constraint of all living things: We escape one peril only to ultimately succumb to another,” so […] Read More

To Create Climate-Secure Foodscapes, Think Like a Plant

The techniques and prophetic vision for achieving food security in the face of climate change contained in Gary Paul Nabhan’s Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land may well need to be implemented across most of North America over the next half-century, and are already applicable in most of the semiarid West, Great Plains, and […] Read More
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