Quantifying the Path to Sustainability

Quantifying the Path to Sustainability


In “The Paradox of Our Time“, I argued that transition to a sustainable future requires changes in our culture as well as our economic environment. In fact, if we look at the history of energy systems, we realize that tapping into a new energy technology has always caused changes in our social norms and economical environment, weather it be the discovery of fire or the invention of nuclear fusion. This suggests that transition to a sustainable energy system would also require changes in our current socio-economic regime. The question then becomes what are those norms are and how can we measure them? Let me share an experience, before indulging on the question more analytically…

The year was 2010 and my wife and I had recently gone through a divorce. I had an emotionally challenging time and was looking forward to building myself a new life. As so, I left my hometown in Vancouver and went on a road trip with cousin from Barcelona and ended up in a music festival called Ozorafest in Hungary. For the 5 days during the festival, I experienced a community of some 20,000 people operating with a different value system. Kids were running around without their parent’s supervision, and as if everyone were their aunts and uncles. Everyone was very open, approachable, and welcoming of connection. People seemed equal and there were no social classes defined based on education, income, or ethnicity…

 On a more personal note, dancing to electronic fused music in nature for hours everyday helped connect me to me feelings and surrounding at a deeper level. I felt more alive in my body and present with myself. All in all, I would say I experienced joy to the level that I hadn’t before, and realized how community, art, and nature can come together and facilitate transformation of consciousness to feel better in our lives. So simple and so powerful…

 Another observation I had during Ozorafest was the few resources required to serve such a large crowd. There were few hundred washrooms and some 10s of vendors taking care of the food and waste supply of the some 20k people. This made me realize the potentials that a communal lifestyle can provide for reducing our footprint due to sharing and the economies of scale.

 Let me put these experiences into a more analytical context. From a social perspective, it is desirable to have healthier and happier lives, and Quality of Life (QoL) is the measure that captures these qualities. As for economic activities, we need to reduce our footprint to be able to sustain our lifestyle on earth, and Ecological Footprint (EF) is the measure that captures our demand of the earth’s ecosystem. The ratio of the two, i.e., QoL/EF, is called the Happy Planet Index (HPI), which normalizes our well-being for the impact that it has on the environment. Measuring HPI allows us to evaluate and design initiatives that make the best use of resources on earth for improving our well-being. This suggests that the path for creating a sustainable socio-economic regime is one that promotes initiatives that improve the HPI, rather than the GDP or any other measure. In this regards, I believe that a more community-centered lifestyle, i.e. a Community Culture, can increase HPI in our societies. This is because the increased support and connection provided by the community can increase our QoL, while sharing resources provides opportunities for reducing our EF, resulting in an increase in HPI.

Inspired by my realizations at Ozorafest, Upoon my return to Vancouver, I started a community house to experience a more communal lifestyle. I also joined the transformation dance community of East Vancouver, and got involved with the bigger transformation dance tribal family on west coast. These experiences have been pivotal in my life. What I wish to share in the following blogs are the opportunities and intricacies for transition to a community lifestyle. A lifestyle that is more supportive and fulfilling than the one our collective awareness has manifested.

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