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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.


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

The Future Is Hopeless, So Give it Your All

The never-ending national election in the United States, the “surprise” pro-Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, climate change … the list goes on and on about how easy it can be to lose hope in the future.Like many of life’s frustrations, or overwhelmingly large topics, most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the […] Read More

How Carbon Farming Can Save the Planet

Carbon farming alone is not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, but coupled with new economic priorities, a massive switch to clean energy, and big changes to much of the rest of the way our societies work, it offers a pathway out of destruction and a route to hope.Along the way carbon farming can also […] Read More

Welcome to the Lyme Wars

Lyme disease infects a minimum of 300,000 people per year in the United States and millions more throughout the rest of the world. Symptoms run from mild lethargy to severe arthritis to heart disease to incapacitating mental dysfunction. Although tests have improved over the past decade, they are still not completely reliable, and antibiotics are […] Read More

Look Under Your Feet for Global Soil-utions

For several years, Chelsea Green has been publishing books that look under our feet for solutions to some of the most vexing problems facing the planet – hunger, drought, degraded farmland and grasslands, damaged waterways, and much more. Those books focus on (mostly) one thing: Soil.  In 2016, we’ve published two more important books that […] Read More
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