Communes are not just for hippies and polygamists anymore

With the developed world’s debt crisis ever-looming, the rather left-field idea of finding compatible people and living on a commune is becoming increasingly attractive.

ONE of my childhood pals, Natalia, has always been a big believer in lasting friendships. After graduation from high school, alarmed by the way our group of close friends had found ourselves drifting apart, spread across the globe, she came up with a fantasy scenario.

“Wouldn’t it be great”, she mused one day, “if we could all live together in a commune?” Fits of laughter ensued – it was the sort of thing only hippies and polygamists did. Our fresh-faced 18-year-old selves were silently plotting our own paths to world domination, and it didn’t involve working the soil or building compost toilets.

Ten (or so) years later, with the world economy in tatters and world domination not going exactly to plan, I’ve come to realise it’s one of the most practical things Natalia has ever come up with.

Sustainable living has become de rigueur, and not just among hippies and polygamists.  Governments, developers and environmentalists all seem to want us to find a way to lessen our carbon footprint and live more “sustainably”. In practice, that means things like creating energy-efficient homes, eating food that hasn’t travelled across the globe to get to our plates and ditching our cars in favour of greener transport.

Pic from http://carriekellenberger.com

Many people in my generation are also struggling to be able to afford to get on the property ladder.

With the cost of gas and electricity sky-rocketing, and food prices rising faster than inflation, groups of compatible 20- and 30-somethings could do worse than purchasing a plot of land in a fertile corner of the world where they could live, grow food and share resources.

It’s still a bit of a fantasy scenario, but it’s – admittedly worryingly – one that is looking increasingly appealing.

Your views on green issues depend very much on how you perceive the world

Britons understand that no land is dispensable – it’s a shame that Canada hasn’t come to the same conclusion.

THERE are few certainties in life – death and taxes being notable exceptions. But I think I might have discovered another certainty to add to the list – that is, if the trend continues.

It’s become a de facto certainty that whenever Canada is mentioned in the media here in the UK,  it is the result of an environmental policy.

It’s not difficult for me to see why Britons and other Europeans are baffled by some of Canada’s policies.

The huge contrast of Canada – a country spoiled with land and resources – and Europe – a continent that treasures its few resources which have been ravaged by thousands of years of human activity – will inevitably lead to clashes.

Take the recent row over Canada’s asbestos industry. Europeans are baffled because Canada seems to be the only country in the developed world which is disregarding the serious health concerns raised by scientists and physicians. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer which has proven links with exposure to asbestos, and it has claimed many lives in Canada and around the world.

In Europe, the idea that a developed nation like Canada is continuing to mine asbestos and sell it to the developing world is anathema.

But for Canadians, asbestos is just one of the many natural resources that Canada relies on to bring money into the economy.

The Canadian government is under pressure to change its stance. Whatever decision they make, it must be based on thorough research and sound science.

Asbestos is not the only thing giving Canada a bad name in the UK. Earlier this year, I watched a programme called Arctic with Bruce Parry. BBC presenter Bruce Parry travelled to  northern Alberta, where the oil industry has changed the face of the landscape in order to extract oil from the sands. The purpose of the documentary was not to be critical of the oil industry, but to shed light on how people live in northern climates. However, Bruce Parry couldn’t mask his sadness when he toured the area in a helicopter and saw the scale of the operation.

Many Canadians will argue that Britons should not judge what Canada does within its own borders.

But living in a nation like Britain, it is impossible not to be concerned. No matter where you live in the UK, be it Wales or London, houses are small and built on a small footprint, and land for industry is nearly impossible to obtain. Britain simply doesn’t have land  which it considers “dispensable”. Britons know that there is no such thing.

I have begun to understand that view point –  anyone who has ever spent a significant amount of time here in the UK would understand.

It wouldn’t hurt for leaders – on both sides of the Atlantic – to see how easily their perceptions would change if they were forced to walk a mile in each other’s shoes.