October 2, 2023

Beyond Numbers: Cultivating a Sustainable Future in the Greek Countryside

In the world of economics, growth is the name of the game. But what if this obsession with constant economic growth is not sustainable? What if there is more to life than just numbers? These are the questions that have been plaguing societies worldwide, including Greece, where the pursuit of “development” has occasionally overshadowed the importance of balance and well-being.

In our modern world, we measure everything. We count the days, the hours, the weeks. We track income, expenses, sales, returns, and complaints. We tally followers, likes, shares, “influence,” and content. We even measure our own lives and bodies; we measure lost souls as if quantifying them validates the loss. If it cannot be measured, it does not matter. Numbers drive us forward, pushing us to grow and expand as if growth is the only natural path.

This relentless pursuit of growth is not limited to economics. It extends to our perception of success, happiness, and even our planet. We live in a perpetually expanding world, yet it struggles to accommodate us all. The numbers keep growing, and we follow suit until either the numbers run out or the world can no longer bear our weight.

In the picturesque landscapes of Tzoumerka (Ioannina, Greece), a region blessed with water, forests, mountains, and seas, resilient souls embarked on a quest to find meaning beyond growth. Their journey was not easy. The accessibility of these remote villages is challenging and the weather can be unforgiving. Tzoumerka may be a place blessed with natural beauty but is one of Europe’s poorest regions, marked by inadequate infrastructure and connectivity. The villagers faced numerous challenges, yet they persevered. And so did our guests in our “Life after Growth” summer school. They did not choose cynicism. Instead, they decided on exploration, learning, reflection, vulnerability, and hope. In this context, we critically discussed how we value, care for, and nurture our collective affairs through the commons, reflecting upon commons-based ways of understanding, acting, and being.

In recent years, various local initiatives, cooperatives, and communities have sprung up, daring to be different. The Tzoumakers’ communal workshop sees farmers and artisans
crafting tools tailored to local small-scale agriculture. The Commonen energy community supports around 60 households and small businesses in meeting their energy needs
independently of the aggressive energy market. The mobile workshop “Boulouki” preserves traditional building techniques, while the social cooperative “The High Mountains” strives to make life more sustainable for those who choose to remain in the mountains or return to them. Habibi.Works is an intercultural workshop that offers refugees and locals a space for
creative collaboration, sharing, and mutual support. These endeavours, along with the breathtaking landscape of Tzoumerka, its cuisine, nature, and the warmth of its people, inspired this small community of students, researchers, and practitioners to imagine a new world.

In this world, growth is not an obsession, and consequences are not ignored. Small and beautiful things hold value, and our needs can be satisfied without someone else’s suffering. Limits exist, but we set them not to confine us but to embrace us. They help us find balance in a society that chooses to have limits in order to be happy. In this society, we measure
without becoming prisoners of measurement.

But words alone are not enough; we need action. The divide between theory and practice is as foolish as the separation between the mind and the body. They are one and the same. Just as reason cannot exist without the body, ideas and actions are inseparable.

Ideas are born and reproduced through our actions, relationships, and interactions. The practices of a new world are already sown in the here and now. These practices can address the climate crisis and pave the way for a socially just model. We must recognize, understand, experience, support, believe in, and, at the same time, challenge and improve these practices.

Our goal is to make them our own, to create a new reality based on them, and to reassess, strengthen, and reevaluate them continually. We’ve attempted to cultivate such a community here through actions and human relationships that give meaning to our ideas and values. We aim to illuminate a path to hope, a world worth living in, and one worth passing on to future generations. Beyond the numbers, beyond the obsession with growth, there lies a life that is both sustainable and meaningful.

It’s time to bridge the gap between theory and practice, to make our dreams a reality, and to cultivate a world where sustainability and well-being flourish side by side. Together, we can
nurture a future that goes beyond numbers, one that truly counts.

Blog post credits

Christina Priavolou