In one of the harshest environments in the world, in the middle of war-ravaged Colombia, is an oasis of sustainable living. A place where innovation and creativity flourish—an experiment in renewable energy and ecological revitalization. It is the village of Gaviotas, founded in the late 1960s by visionary developer Paolo Lugari.
Stopping to rest in this vast expanse, written off by agronomists as the equivalent of a tropical desert, Mr. Lugari decided it was the perfect place to experiment with the future of civilization. He founded a village unlike any other in this war-weary country.
“The only deserts that exist in this world are deserts of the imagination,” said Mr. Lugari, 64, on a visit this month to the community he named after the river gulls, or gaviotas, he saw flying overhead on that trip more than 40 years ago.
These days, visitors travel by propeller plane over the bleak savanna to get here, or by bus past the occasional guerrilla or paramilitary checkpoint. The visitors rarely come. But when they do, they get a glimpse into a four-decade experiment to alter civilization’s dependence on finite fossil fuels and industrial agriculture.
Its 200 residents have no guns, no police force, no cars, no mayor, no church, no priest, no cellphones, no television, no Internet. No one who lives in Gaviotas has a job title.
But Gaviotas does have an array of innovations intended to make human life feasible in one of the most challenging ecosystems, from small inventions like a solar kettle for sterilizing water to large ones like a 19,800-acre reforestation project whose tropical pines produce resin for biofuel and a canopy under which native plant species flourish.