For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been highlighting a series of interviews on climate change — our current situation and possible solutions. While engaged in that series, I came across a TEDx talk given by a woman who lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (, a sustainable living demonstration project and intentional community in Rutledge, Mo.

Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig is the executive director of the ecovillage and a sustainability educator. She’s also a member of the board of directors of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (, which hosts a long list of intentional communities around the world and tons of information about them. These communities are formed with a wide variety of lifestyles in mind, generally including social cohesion, sharing and teamwork.

“This should be interesting,” I thought.

And it was.

Ludwig’s main message in the TEDx talk was “Living a sustainable life doesn’t suck.”

She talks about all the images we see from an early age, on TV, magazines and now Internet, of expensive cars and beautiful people, classy clothes and flashy jewelry, and huge mansions with exotic swimming pools.

We’re taught to want these things, to work long hours to acquire whatever version of them we can afford.

But the images we have of a sustainable life might include scrappy, idealistic hippy types making do with life’s castoffs.

Life in an ecovillage really doesn’t suck, Ludwig says. It’s hard work, for sure — but full of creativity and cooperation, delicious organic food and plenty of fun.

What’s astounding is that people at Dancing Rabbit use less than 10 percent of the electricity and water that average Americans use.

Ludwig says reaching that kind of metric doesn’t happen without a lot of cooperation and optimism.

We need to see the world realistically, she said, with its ecological situation, all the poverty, political strife, terrorism, everything.

But seeing only the bad news leads to pessimism. And pretending poverty and strife don’t exist is to have an unrealistic, Pollyanna mindset.

Optimism, though, is having one foot in the realm of pain and suffering, “looking unflinchingly at the world just as it is,” and one foot in the realm of possibility, believing that “we can create something better.”

“Dancing Rabbit imports optimists and exports hope, because we are 75 people actually hitting the 10 percent mark in some of the most important ecological measurements,” she said.

The village started its own solar power cooperative and committed to the practice of exporting 2 kilowatt hours of its solar power for every kilowatt hour of grid power the community uses.

The village uses:

• 7.5 percent of the electricity of the average American

• 8 percent of the U.S. average for propane consumption

• 9 percent of water usage

How do they do this? For one thing, they use composting toilets, recycling the nutrients and saving the water.

They grow gardens around their houses instead of lawns.

They catch rainwater from their metal roofs.

They’ve decided that it’s OK to not take a daily shower. (They do have a lovely swimming pond, and showers are always available in the community building, as well as many of the homes.)

Ludwig points out that Americans own 83 cars for every 100 people. At Dancing Rabbit, they have four cars for 75 people.

What about food? Thankfully, they don’t live on 10 percent of the calories.

“Our basic approach to food is local, organic and low on the food chain.”

About half the members don’t eat meat (about 13 percent of Americans overall are vegetarian).

What about their houses? Many are straw-bale homes, with straw harvested nearby, using posts and lumber either harvested in the area or reclaimed from area structures that have come down. Others are made from rammed earth or other natural materials. All are super-insulated and use passive solar and thermal mass in their design.

Many homes have earthen, or adobe, floors and walls made from clay at the building site.

And homes are smaller, about 230 square feet per person.

Dancing Rabbit has been thriving for about 15 years. Ludwig says there are four keys to living well together: creativity, courage, compassion and cooperation.

“We are literally inventing a new world and making it up as we go,” she said.

She points out that these keys are skills that can be learned.

“And we need places to practice those skills. Living in community is one of the best places to practice because it is so real. When it comes down to it, intentional community living is world peace work, because here we can learn to resolve conflicts peaceably. And that’s huge if we want a sustainable world.

“We share tools, cars and a common house that meets a lot of our needs and allows us to keep our individual homes small without it feeling like deprivation. And sharing means coordination, which means getting very good at social relationships.”

People sometimes say it’s too expensive to live sustainably. Ludwig points out that they are living this life on an average income of only $10,000 a year.

“We don’t need more money or more stuff to be sustainable,” Ludwig says. “What we do need is each other.”

Roshana Ariel is an assistant editor for the Journal. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..