Final Frontier, the space between our ears.
April 16, 2004 7:39 AM   Subscribe

A viilage to reinvent the world : Gaviotas "In 1965 Paulo Lugari was flying over the impoverished Llanos Orientales, the “eastern plains” that border Venezuela. The soil of the Llanos is tough and acidic, some of the worst in Colombia. Lugari mused that if people could live here they could live anywhere.....The following year Lugari and a group of scientists, artists, agronomists and engineers took the 15-hour journey along a tortuous route from Bogota to the Llanos Orientales to settle."

"...they would need to be very resourceful. So they invented wind turbines that convert mild breezes into energy, super-efficient pumps that tap previously inaccessible sources of water [powered by a child's playground seesaw!], and solar kettles that sterilize drinking water using the furious heat of the tropical sun....They even invented a rain forest!" (from "Gaviotas - A village to reinvent the World", by Tim Weisman) Amidst the strife of war torn Columbia, Gaviotas persists and even flourishes. " "When we import solutions from the US or Europe," said Lugari, founder of Gaviotas, "we also import their problems."....Over the years Gaviotas technicians have installed thousands of the windmills across Colombia....Since Gaviotas refuses to patent inventions, preferring to share them freely, the design has been copied from Central America to Chile."

Gaviotas is real, yes, but it is also a state of mind - as if Ben Franklin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Leonardo Da Vinci - all of the great those giants who reinvisioned the possible - were reincarnated : as a small Columbian village on a once-desolate plain. "Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez has called Paolo Lugari the "inventor of the world." "
posted by troutfishing (12 comments total)
Have a wonderfully creative weekend. Invent!
posted by troutfishing at 7:41 AM on April 16, 2004

Typos, warts, and alll - I was too overwhelmed by the beauty of this experiment - in human creativity - to think to spell-check. Ha ha!
posted by troutfishing at 7:44 AM on April 16, 2004

fascinating stuff, troutfishing. I feel like I just read about this place elsewhere. (Metropolis Magazine, perhaps?) I can't remember. Did an article somewhere inspire this post?
posted by shoepal at 7:49 AM on April 16, 2004

Great links, troutfishing! Too bad the corporate giants in the US won't see the big picture. Can you imagine if someone didn't patent a successful device/method on our soil?! The greed monkeys would be all over it in seconds. Beautiful experiment indeed! Thanks.
posted by yoga at 7:54 AM on April 16, 2004

Slightly OT: Troutfishing, you might like this article and this site on The Induction Cities.
posted by shoepal at 8:03 AM on April 16, 2004

Great stuff, it'll take me some time to read it all.

On first look, I wonder about the ideological uses of this story. It's a story about white men invading indigenous territory and claiming it for their own uses. It's a story about the deliberate introduction of foreign species. It's a story about man conquering the wilderness with modern technology and adapting it to his needs. But it's also a story about sustainable development and conservation.

It seems to me that there's a basic conflict between this type of story and the particular wing of the ecological movement that is anti-technology, pro-wilderness, and anti-development. Do you believe that man should reconstruct nature as he wants, as long as he does it with the "right" sort of methods? And how do you distinguish between good and bad ways of giving nature a makeover to make it more habitable for us?
posted by fuzz at 8:11 AM on April 16, 2004

oops, sorry about the sexist language; my head was full of the words of the Enlightenment philosophers talking about nature being subservient to "man" that I read way back before feminism justifiably drove that kind of language out of use.
posted by fuzz at 8:34 AM on April 16, 2004

The Friends-of-Gaviotas site was profoundly frustrating, because it didn't give me enough info! Gaaahhh!! I want to see more pics, plan overviews, tech specs, layouts of the buildings, etc. etc. etc. Grr.

...checking Google gives me some blurry images of a guy climbing a windmill, some stuff about the seesaw pump, and that's about it. I'm going to freak.

Shoepal: thx for the article link.
posted by aramaic at 8:54 AM on April 16, 2004

The movement fuzz describes seems to be related to the (still popular) idea that humans are somehow fundamentally divided from the natural world and should attempt to live in such a way as to have a minimal impact upon their surroundings. This is probably related to certain religious ideas that divide humans from (and set them above) other living things.

Species spread, some species bring other species with them to new environments or create new niches that can be exploited by existing species, and some pressure other species into extinction. Certain arrangements and interactions between living things are delicate, life in general is not. Life fills the tiniest available niches: bacteria living around the rim of undersea volcanoes spring to mind. Life in general isn't set back when certain species experience die-back, that event simply just opens up another niche. Humans that think that they're not engaged in that process are being more than a little arrogant and short-sighted.

Is any other species 'bad' if they happen to pressure another organism into extinction? If the second species had been doing its job more effectively (not dying off) there wouldn't have been a problem, so which species is really the one at fault? Can you really assign blame when an evolutionary bet in the distant past rendered a certain organism unable to adapt to environmental changes, or caused one to exploit a resource that was vital to the survival of another species?

The people of this village seem to be doing their best to think about what impact they would like their actions to have on their environment in the long term, which, given that forecasting such complex systems is extremely difficult, is about as much as you can ask of them.

Taking antibiotics (particularly not finishing a course of them) creates an incredibly efficient environment in which the weakest bacteria in your body die off, leaving a relatively larger number of drug-resistant bacteria to pass on their drug-resistant properties to the next generation. Maybe the people subsribing to the zero-impact point of view should give up any and all antibiotics in case they damage the environment by selectively supercharging bacteria. That should clear up the argument within a few generations.
posted by snarfodox at 9:26 AM on April 16, 2004

aramaic - you'll get a whole lot more in Brazilian than in English. That seemed clear to me - I didn't spend a huge amount of time digging (just enough to get the overall point across). The book by Tim Weisman might have more detail - though I haven't read it yet, so I can't guarantee that (I plan to, however).

shoepal - thanks. More grist for the mill.

fuzz - Meself, I think I've grown out of the "zero impact" fetish. It's unrealistic, and for many reasons - including snarfodox's eloquently put ones.

"It's a story about white men invading indigenous territory and claiming it for their own uses. It's a story about the deliberate introduction of foreign species. It's a story about man conquering the wilderness with modern technology" - I really liked the idea of creating a rainforests, because they're under such assault elsewhere. Was the region Gaviotas settled in "barren"? Probably not. But if gaviotas is lessening poverty in the region - ven a little - that would tend to have an overall positive environmental impact. Poverty drives environmental devastation more than any other factor I know of. And, as snarfodox noted, species are migrating like crazy now - the "Columbian Exchange" (a book, and a concept, by Alfred Crosby ) began - heavily - several hundred years ago and is still underway, changing ecosystems and relationships everywhere. "Pure" ecosystems are fast disappearing.

Technology Gaviotas uses seems less, to me, about conquering than about learning to live sustainably.

I'm a little suspicious these days about the uses to which the term "indigenous" is put. How about the concept of "appropriately adapted" (to local conditions) ?

Just tossed-off thoughts written on the fly.
posted by troutfishing at 11:22 AM on April 16, 2004

How about the concept of "appropriately adapted" (to local conditions) ?

A popular term in architecture is "vernacular". I'm not sure it's any better (actually, it bugs me) but there's one option anyhow....
posted by aramaic at 11:33 AM on April 16, 2004

aramaic - not bad. The thing is, it's more of a static term.

Humans need to learn - or relearn, I think, about the back and forth, push and pull, and interplay, dance and conversation (sometimes quarrel) with environment.

All living things talk to each other, in a sense. Humans are merely in temporary denial.
posted by troutfishing at 3:37 PM on April 16, 2004

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