The Case for Sustainability and the Two Drivers of History


Here is an excerpt from a book i’m writing:

I ask myself what is sustainability?

In our field of work, the term sustainable tourism is used a lot, yet I thought before we can look at what tourism is and how it can be sustainable we need to look at sustainability itself, to explore the relationship we have, as Humans, with some underlying forces that seem to interlace through history, weaving in and out of our evolution.

In the beginning of our journey we, as humans, were hunter gatherers. New evidence keeps coming up changing our timelines and new theories pop up almost everyday now, though it is clear we hunted or gathered for our needs, things were simple, and so were our drives.
We made shelters from natural materials, or lived directly in caves and small structures, living in a sort of natural relationship with everything around us. We hunted where animals roamed, and gathered where there were fruit, berries, nuts and honey.
This was our primal relationship in a natural environment.

Our religion or belief system back then was based on nature itself, animism, we venerated the actual phenomena and animals we lived in. We worshipped the sun and stars under which we lay at night. We noted the forces and their affect on us, yet we lived as a direct part of the natural system in which they occurred.

We then started to manipulate nature in an ever increasing degree following a need to create a sort of safety. In order to achieve a plateau of well being, we started not only to store our food, because in the natural stage we did all of that already, like squirrels do before winter. No, we started to manipulate nature itself, to provide us its substances directly without the need to go around and look for it and we invented farming.

The driving force that I am referring to here is the drive to accumulate. In this, our first stage away from the natural, we started accumulating food through the invention of farming and agriculture, in a way that allowed us to become sedentary, or semi-sedentary to begin with, because I guess we still liked to travel. That as a side note was possibly the beginning of tourism, (I am just joking). What I am saying is that in the start we kept on living as part hunter gatherers, part farmers. The domestication of wheat, the social crop, allowed us to become farmers, some mythologies say the gods themselves gave us agriculture.

Around 11,000 years ago as we were coming out of an unexpected mini Ice age we see the rise of strange settlements, like the one in Göbekli Tepe in the Southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey. I wonder what this sudden cooling of the earth for a relatively short period, ending in another global warming in a relatively short period, would have felt like to the people wandering in it.

There are many theories about what caused it, some argue that a massive comet struck the earth and so bringing the start of the Younger Dryas. But whatever the reason is, in Göbekli Tepe we see a people, thought to be hunter gatherers, in the very same area that wheat and grain domestication had first taken place, yet those people had been building temple complexes with pillars of stone 6m high, hewn into sockets they made into the bedrock itself.

Strange animals adorn those pillars, mostly symbolic for star constellations. I personally love to imagine what it felt like for those people. What did the earth feel like to them? Why did they make those temples? What were the importance of those symbols they worked so hard to erect in the enclosures on that hill? Why did they bury it again, and what made them come together as a large group of people, as it must have taken one to build such a thing?

We see people moving out from one stage of living with nature into another social organisation, bigger groups with a different type of belief systems. They are no longer roaming the earth in smaller groups but are now building settlements and temples, which must have meant they lived in the area for a long enough period, and had enough time and people to build such a temple complex. I guess we can try and imagine what the earth looked like for those people, suddenly cooling, possibly going through a massive destruction event, and then warming up again, into a sort of spring of new hope. But in any case we see the rise of a new type of social order, and another relationship with the natural world emerging, and possibly as a result our first ancient grains.

Why did we even want to live in ever larger groups? This question brings us to the other driver force of history: the power that brings people together, a sort of base urge, a desire of sorts, or maybe it is a power in itself.
Maybe we are pack animals, and like wolves, the power in numbers and the subsequent safety was the reason, because as an animal we compete with some predators only because we are better at manipulating the environment around us. I argue that this need we have to create larger groups of people is something inherent in us, primal, possibly more magical than just relating to our safety, and we can follow it as a thread through history. It is a search for power, the power of people coming together.

Yet this driving force is a little harder to highlight – it’s the actual force we feel together as a group. As it is rarely (if ever), spoken about as a thing of its own I need to borrow a term from the 13th century Scholar Ibn Khaldun again.

Ibn Khaldun speaks about Assabyia, the group feeling, the power of the tribe, and argued that it was the “driver of history”, and that nomads, because they practice a purer form of life that is closer to the natural cycle, always have more of it. They have a stronger group consciousness over sedentary people. As they possess more of it, they also find it much easier to conquer other people, and he argued that with time, that force becomes corrupted because nomads become sedentary too after winning over their neighbours. The easier life they practice in turn, because of the spoils they plunder or inherit, makes them vulnerable to a new group of nomads who have stronger group adhesion and consciousness, and so the cycle goes on.

With the advent of farming a new reality was possible and so we started creating villages, which later turned into towns, then cities, calling for an ever larger scale of farming and domestication, allowing a larger food supply to be made in any given locale. We can raise the question here already – was that a sustainable way to live? Obviously it raised issues, about over-using the land, about the need of grazing for bigger herds of domestic animals, about sanitation, about removing ourself from nature.

We can say that people started as small families, turned into clans and then into tribes, and that group consciousness, the feeling of being together, that power that allowed them to do so, or the feeling of an ever increasing body of family and blood ties has become a sort of commodity they started looking to increase on its own. Ibn Khaldun argued that blood ties are always stronger than anything else, meaning that when a person lives with a certain group but is not related to them by blood, his alliance with them would never be as strong, his was a first ever made research of that group force as thing on its own, highlighting what is social power, and how it is obtained.

In our next mutation away from the natural state, becoming farmers and starting to build larger settlements together, we saw the need to accumulate possessions and store food rising to a new high, and with it the search for an ever increasing grouping. So our settlements have grown into cities, so by definition, larger than 10,000, forming a chain of those into civilisations. Grain storage meant we can keep food for longer times, and social organisation over our farming allowed us to live together in even bigger groups, again I would ask why did we even want to live in such bigger groups. Has the drive to have a bigger pack, bigger group identity got so removed that we felt like we needed to be ever increasingly bigger?, was that sustainable?

Again many theories have been put forth, because it is strange how in seemingly a short period time (relatively speaking) we see humanity moving away from being, supposedly, hunter gatherers that roam around, yet a moment later they are not just building temples, they are building whole cities, and now, pyramids to strange gods.

It has been argued that all of this must have been caused by some interference, that the gods were actually from another planet, or remnants of an older civilisation that survived the impact that brought the Younger Dryas forth. That those more advanced people taught hunter gatherers and brought them together, but for whatever reason, and though personally I like to imagine those scenarios and ponder what the migrations of early man would have felt like, something big has changed in us, or someone bigger than us changed us, as some claim.

Civilisations needing us to come up with complex systems of organisation, to ease sourcing our food and farming in order to make them more efficient, enabling us to feed our cities, also saw the birth of whole social hierarchy and a new system of value that transformed actual commodities into units, or into point system, in other words, money came into being. Things were assigned values, a certain value can be bartered in exchange of commodity.

Our belief systems also changed, we moved away from worshipping natural phenomena like rain, and wind, cave and mountains, the stars and the heavens. A sort of abstraction took place, we started assigning governing forces of natural phenomena, something that possibly originated with the idea that the stars as they move through the sky control or affect the things that happen down on earth. We grouped certain stars into constellations because they looked like things we knew, and we gave them attributes, we believed they controlled the way things happened on earth, we were no longer simply worshipping the power of mountain and cave, or special attributions of animals, we started believing in an abstraction that governed those forces.

So if in Göbekli Tepe we brought down the consolations down to earth,
in some strange need to have heaven near us, so we can be amongst the stars that affected us so much, Civilisation in Sumer, Akkad, Babylon and Egypt saw us dividing the sky into equal portions and giving the heavenly powers the earth itself. The gods were now beings that we can see as people, yet they came from above, the sky was split into the 12 sections with the signs of the zodiac, into areas of influence. Each of those “gods” held a power over an aspect of earth, so heaven was portioned and each portion ruled a part. It was a mirror image of the social organisation that was taking place in order to govern over larger groups of people. It symbolises the birth of government organisations, and our first religions were simply that, systems that facilitated unifying an ever increasing body of people under the same heaven, and not the other way around, someone or something, used belief in order to take us into larger settlements as a way to group us in ever increasing body of people.

In Hamlet’s Mill, Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend argue that our mythologies and belief systems all originated with astrological constellations, that our first legends were actually the movement of stars that we observed, stories of giants and hunters, Orion and Hercules, serpents and dragons.
We started believing in a personification of ruling powers, that controlled and governed natural phenomena, the birth of our first gods and goddesses, brought down to earth like falling stars to live amongst us.
As we can argue about what came first, our belief system or the social order that they facilitated, I am only outlining their relationship here.

Our new gods and goddesses allowed us to not to be reliant on nature, and it meant we can hold the group unifying feeling through a belief that was removed from nature itself, as after all our new system of belief was ruled by higher forces, it helped facilitate a move away from being nomads that travel the earth, worshipping the powers of the places that they travel through. We invented, or possibly inherited, or maybe even got given by someone else, a new system of faith, with a new pantheon of ruling forces that dominated the natural world around us.
Possibly it was part of us being dominated as well, by some more advanced race, but maybe instead of laying the blame elsewhere, we can simply say that we changed it.

The two drivers of history saw us arrange our belief systems to suit. We did not need the natural world to unify us anymore, we could worship through abstraction, powers that were distilled out of the constellations of the night sky into a race of gods. We built them pyramids and ziggurats, stepped temples, because they were in the heaven above us, and we were here down on earth, so even though we brought them to live with us they were still above us, at the end of a long flight of stairs.
In our newly made cities, now storing mountains of grain, and contemplating our first empires, we could do so much more together, but why did we want to? Was it sustainable for us to build a mountain of stones to gods that were no longer natural?

At the same time, this complex social organisation saw us needing a whole order of people to rule over us, to direct us, and the new belief system helped there too: we needed priests to talk on our behalf to the rolling forces that controlled everything. In an ever increasing pantheon every aspect and attribute was simply assigned a new god, a god of its own. Were those gods really descended from heaven, or did we just start inventing them? We even had a god for wine – was this some sort of early attempt at branding?

We can see how the driving force of accumulating in order to have safety out of the fear of scarcity, has become a force of its own now, a spiralling hunger – not only did we manipulate nature now, we also started manipulating the people that manipulated nature on our behalf, with the aim of amassing more.

Now that we were so efficient in satisfying our physical hunger, and we did not need to move like we did before as part of the natural system, the driving force that saw us safe through accumulating turned into a sort of endless need, to have more, but how much more is sustainable, what is the point of having an empire? Was it some strange ruling caste that needed to blindfold us, having us believe that we needed to be bigger and stronger, or was it simply us? And the power of being a people-together has mutated into something so big we wanted to be a nation, we wanted to be an empire, but what for? Were we better off? We seem to have lost our conversation with the natural forces at that point, lost nature itself and were now living in stone prisons, each assigned our own cells with walls all around us, worshipping a mountain that we built. Did that natural driving force, the pride and power we felt as small groups of people sharing a common identity turn too into a hunger that has driven us mad?.

We took to fighting and conquering our neighbours, usually people who were less advanced or closer to nature, still living in some sort of tribal grouping, and so smaller. A new type of relationship developed in which our belief system, and our way of life started being seen as stronger then theirs, our hunger to have more, now losing any proportions, could only be satisfied in the quick gain of taking from others, enslaving them. Who thought about this first?.

Were we ruled by some strange elite of survivors from another place? Were they not satisfied with how many of us they had to serve them, they needed us to go around and find more, how much food can one eat? If you already have a pyramid to sit on, and are dressed in gold, how many more pyramids do you need and how much gold is enough? I guess now that we have manipulated all the natural forces we simply did not know what to do with the drive to accumulate, we mutated nature, and our basic natural drivers and desires have mutated in us. Yet they have always been the same core forces. As if at any given point we can just jump ship, let the pyramid fall and go back to nature.

Because of the natural character of that force Ibn Khaldun called Assabyia, the group feeling was always stronger in smaller groups, in tribes that lived closer to nature, with less, holding a stronger cohesion, bound together by harsher living situations, by desert and mountain. And so although empires now have risen through our cunning and ability to organise and group new criteria together, they also fell, becoming corrupted by the excess, by the easy life that comes with wealth, and so we see that the hunger to accumulate and the need to become more powerful people are also interrelated with each other, and seemingly governed by some sort of fail safe mechanisms that regulates them, as if we too, are in an endless cycle of harvest. Our wheat grows into empires and is cut from the sheath, the fields of civilisation seem to lie empty, just to have new crops shoot up with golden grain rise just to be harvested by another people. It seems that no one civilisation reaped its own harvests, it was always cut by the rise of another, made out of groups of nomads, dying to try their hand at the empire game, the game of thrones.

Ibn Khaldun lived in the 13th century, we can see how at points civilisation brought an amazing wealth of well being, he enjoyed a sort of world peace that has never happened before, allowing new schools of thought to develop, yet still with an element of danger. The Muslim world view was divided between the Dar as-Salam, literally meaning the house of peace, also referred to as the house of Islam, seeing the Islamic world reaching from Morocco to deepest heart of Asia. In contrast with the house of war, Dar al-Harb, the world was divided into countries that held a treaty of peace or of non aggression and countries that did not.

Another famous Arabic scholar travelled that world of peace from side to side, over 30 years Ibn Battuta (a Moroccan scholar) saw himself moving from country to country, as a scholar, travelling without the need of money, treated as the guest of honour in every city or village he came through. It was a world of peace, that allowed thought and sciences to flourish. Yet with that the threat of the nomad in the form of the mongol horde still ever present. So It is easy to see how Ibn Khaldun could underline those two different ends of a process and how he came about to identify the group feeling or force as the driver that moves them. After all not only he was an historian he actually sat and interviewed Timur himself, the golden age of muslim thought combined with the dramas of Turco-Mongol conquest has outlined to him the power that makes and breaks empires and dynasties.

He wrote about it as a natural force of sort, and I tend to agree with him, I think that both those forces – the need to accumulate wealth and power, came out of a natural place in us, but as we lost our natural place in the world, those two have also lost a natural character, leaving us with the same basic hunger, but without a natural way to satisfy it, we started suffering from a social obesity, we ate countries and empires to satisfy something, but what?, was it sustainable for us, what was the benefit of it?. Sure we can do so much more as large groups of people, but who actually wants to do all of that. Was it a sort of experiment in trying to see what we can do?, amazing inventions and horizons have been reached, but was our life more sustainable, was our spirit purer?.

This system of exploitation is a simple basic urge too I guess, to take something from someone else, to work less, to have more. Tribal people’s all over the world were forever engaged in a system of stealing and waging war on their neighbours.

If you read about Native American plain Indians, you can see a whole social system that was built around the fighting of neighbouring tribes, that was how one advanced in his own tribe, constantly engaged in war with one’s neighbours. A question that has been asked, was if at any point in history those elements were actually sustainable?, it is obvious any given people were always engaged under those two driving forces, but did any of them learn to recognise them, did they learn to live sustainably with them?. Or was it always just a question of gathering more, having more power just to lose it to someone else?. Did we ever reach harmony with the forces that rule our fates?.

I have to admit that native Americans had a different sort of relationship with that cycle of power and wealth, maintaining some sort of values inside that system, like honour, like being a warrior, like courage, like generosity. The thing that mattered wasn’t so much what you gained, it was the way you went about fighting for it, it was your spirit and how you carried yourself in the conduct of war, how you managed to deal with those two basic drives within yourself, so although one was always going to take from others, one was also elevated in the social system for giving it all away, as if all that mattered was how it built your character, and not what you gained by taking through war.

So that system strengthened the tribal feeling, and because every tribe was somewhat engaged in the same activity it was much more cyclic, almost as if all the tribes have recognised in an unspoken way that they all will keep on fighting each other, knowing no one will ever win, but as a way to keep their young people brave, and their spirit strong, to keep the group spirit and tribal force always sharp and ready, they did not try to build empires, and it seems that their lives were almost regulated through this never ending tribal war, keeping them forever strong as a people.

Although the basic assumption was still that every tribe wanted to become the most powerful, to have more fighting man, to have more horses. There was a sort of recognition of the powers that ruled and worked through the system, the concept of the “giveaway” for example, it was seen to be more honourable to give away your possessions, so a warrior could come back from a raid with 3000 horses, yet keep two for himself, gifting all the rest.

And although farming was practiced, it was kept in balance with hunting and gathering. I do not know if a system that is built on constant war with all your neighbours is sustainable, yet I need to admit that there is some recognition of the values and how they work through the people’s life. So native Americans seems to keep themselves closer to the natural process, and although driven by that hunger to possess more, they gave it away to their tribe, and accepted without loss of too much that their neighbours would steal it back the next day, it was not just a hunger to have, it was a social system that kept their society fresh and strong, yet forever bloody.

Because this could be an endless field of research, and looking for tribal groups and how they managed to keep those drivers of man through history in check, and because I do not wish to have to defend myself out of lack of accurate information. I will just raise the questions here, did we ever know how to live together as a people? and did we ever live in a sustainable way, why do we always feel like we need more?.

James P. Beckwourth has written one of the best books (in my opinion) about living with the Crow Indians, he has even become one of their chiefs, yet as a modern man, although he has risen through the warrior ranks through his bravery, he also speaks about the constant need that they had for war, the blood in contradiction. It holds an interesting sort of conversation that takes place inside himself, because while he lived as a Crow, he was also engaged as a trader, and so through his work one can read the clash of values, with him swaying back and forth in-between two worlds and belief systems yet somehow strangely balancing them both inside himself.

Before we stray too far and as we just spoke about the golden age of the Arabic world through Islam, I think we should look for a moment at monotheism to explore the last mutation of our belief systems.
The rise of a singular god allowed people to group again in a new way. I am interested in it because I believe that it arose first as a sort of mutation, it was not just a direct progress of social order, it seems to be a special criteria.

Judaism was designed around a god that spoke only to the jews, its a perfect god for a people that travel into the lands of other people, so keeping themselves from mingling. Their god, I would say, is a sort of hybrid of that group feeling itself. Maybe in certain situations a tribe or a people has had such a strong group identity, it gives rise to an entity, a god born of the coming of a certain people, it was the sum total of their tribal feeling, their Assabyia, a tribal god. It is a different sort of god, because it is tailored specifically to them, and as they get stronger, seemingly it does too.

Their god takes them to a holy land, their personal relationship with it allows it to guide them through the desert as a pilar of smoke and fire, descending down on their holy tent, only to rise again and lead them again, to a land they are to take from another people. It was a special kind of criteria, although the obvious need to take and amass, to conquer the land of their neighbours and make it their own, is still the same as in other cases. The second force which is the need to amass a group feeling was kept on a certain kind of rein, because their god is only theirs through blood relation, it seems to ignore other people and so it stops them from growing exponentially, maintaining a sort of common factor that has seen them through history, always living in amongst other people, yet maintaining their identity. So maybe some people throughout history have created more durable self identity, but was theirs more sustainable?, even if they managed to keep themselves as a people, or a group, or a tribe for longer.

Jesus saw Christianity take this one-god-one-people and open it to everyone. Anyone who wished to believe in it could, it was a perfect solution to amassing an ever increasing number or people into one belief, yet it lacked in cohesion and national identity. And the same with Islam. The fall of the tribal systems through empires meant that the criteria that grouped people together has also changed radically. The prophet Muhammad in the Quran introduces a new system of faith to the Arabs, in a systematic call to move away from Jahiliyyah, literally meaning ignorance, a pre-islamic world in which people were divided into tribes worshipping idols, or practicing animism was being wiped clean. It is a good example showing us that religion is a sort of progress of human thought, of organisation into a new social structure, rather than a call for belief.

The Quran, meaning literally “the reading” of Muhammad is like a party manifesto for new society, one that is not aligned to the tribal anymore, so away from the powers that control nature or the power of nature itself into one power that controls everything, away from small or big tribes, away from national identity into something new, and like we said before just before the golden wheat of the Islamic world was cut down by invasion of nomads, it gave birth to a golden age with seeds of thought that still sparkle in each of our modern sciences.

So we have those two main themes interweaving and going through history, the magical ability that people possess to group together and form a bigger body, by group consciousness, and the human trait to horde and store things for later date, and the natural process through which they both seem to corrupt under making us weaker and giving rise to another system that is more powerful.

Our need to have more seems to weaken the ability we have to hold being together. Yet after we lose everything, we again have a strong drive, and a hunger, and that force makes us come together and own more again, in an endless cycle. That is the basic relation between the two.

As humans we horde more than we could ever need, we look for the enlargement and manipulation of natural forces beyond a certain point, and from that point onwards those forces go into decline and social destruction. the question here again will be, what is sustainable?. What is it exactly that we need, what are the values we hold and wish to maintain?. We sail through history in our little boats, so it is hard for each one of us to actually see the ocean, it is hard to figure out how to navigate its water, our immediate occupation with needs or the desire to become more has forever stopped us from figuring out how we can balance all the urges and needs and the powers within us and arrive at some balanced shore.

like in the story of the tower of Babel, god is looking down on us, scared we will reach the heavens, and what did we ever want to do in the heavens?, did we want to go amongst the stars that have become our gods?. Was it not enough that we brought them down to enslave us?.
God has given us too many languages and we can no longer speak to each other, and our towers always fall, can’t we see that every-time we build one of his pyramids or mountains from stone they end up falling down?. Cant we find a way that sustains itself, and lives in a sort of harmony with the powers around us?.

In the Old testament the motive to building the tower of Babel was the flood, the people who survived it gathered and decided to do so in order for them not to perish again or actually, scatter all over the earth, but is building towers better than roaming the earth?.

To drive this timeline to the current stage from the 13th century with its golden age of thought as a sort of zenith, to the current which is no longer tribal, nor even a people living in nations, into its final stage, globalisation.

For a while our famous Human drivers went underground, the devastation that came with the mongol invasion affected both the Islamic world and Europe, although the later was affected more through something else that came with mongols, the rats that carried the fleas that brought the plague. So for a while our social order and its voyage into building forever larger units of accumulation was halted, the house of peace was destroyed, and Europe was decimated, again the powerful nomads ran their sword of tribal unity through the soft lives of the sedentary. Laying to ruin a world of science and thought, and plunging Europe into the dark ages alongside in some sort of afterthought. There is this story of a Russian prince visited by an Eastern sorceress, she comes into his court with two warriors, and said to him “relinquish all your lands to me”, he laughed, the next day the mongol horde descended.

But like always, when destroyed we come back, forever hungry for more. With the building of ships that can cross the oceans and the trade wars between the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and English the world itself (like the heavens before) was divided into hunting grounds so to speak, starting with the spice Islands, South America, and than North America, although at the start nothing of value could be traded or got from the later. The Spanish cashed in the whole of the Inca and mayan world, like a cheque they took to their bank.

And so with our new one-god religions, we simply went and took away everything from everyone, systematically enslaving them for our benefit. We made every indigenous society our serfs, we gave them our gods, and made them work for us. Maybe after all it did take us some 5000 years to come to terms with this amazing business plan, all those years to understand what was done to us by some visitors from another earlier civilisation, or as some claim, an alien species of gods, yet now we got it, we don’t work hard, we get someone else to work.

We have created pockets of wealth under that business plan, a system of organised plunder, pockets that were taken thousands of years to develop, mined from the earth, collected from a million of slaves, all those small units on our barter system put into a cache. Yes it had been happening all along in many different ways, empires have been doing it all along, tribal people were doing it all long, farmers were doing it all along, even hunter gatherers did, just that now we got stupidly good at it.

We ended up with a globalisation system, and a sort of command that we must modernise any people not taking part in it, maybe we are jealous that we lost our contact with nature and our own tribe and they still have both, maybe we see that they live a simpler life, and that they have values, they do not run hungry without the ability to satisfy their hunger. They are hungry but then they eat, we eat endlessly but are never fulfilled so we have become fat.

In our clever barter system if the value of money is one unit, and if we need to each have say, 100 units to live well, what does it mean that we have amassed pockets in which we store a trillion of those units. What can even be done with so much?, sure they are in gold, so they will never rust. But what is sustainable?. The gold was in a pocket in the earth to begin with, and now it is stored in a room that is locked, and no one can go into this room, the person who owns it will never need to use it, so was it not better that we left it in the actual ground to begin with? What is the big difference, between it being inside a mountain where everyone can get it but with effort, and it being inside the belly on the earth in a cellar in which no one can get to it and it is just stored, is that actually so different that we needed to enslave half of the earth for it?.

Did we want to lose any unifying identity, did we want to lose contact with the natural forces that surround us? what is actually going on? are we still angry that we couldn’t reach the stars? That our towers always fall?

In any case I have gone through this timeline in order to highlight the two main forces that seem to have been driving us all along, mutating into their current form as – wealth and political power.
In order for us to think more clearly about what is sustainability I thought I best ask it as a series of questions, because like I said at the start of this timeline, when people speak about sustainability it seems they can only think about curbing carbon emissions, but the whole conversation of what sustains us, and if we can live with it in a sustainable way evades them. Can we find harmony with the cycles and powers that rule our lives?

Bringing A Sustainable Vision to Glamping

This is a longer version of an article which was featured in the June edition of the International Glamping Magazine.

As a result of the number of different campsites we work with we have gained a unique insight into the Glamping industry as a whole. People often talk to us about their business ideas, about what structures work for them, how they set up, and also about their issues, even on an emotional level. Its quite eye opening, a lot of it is because we treat them like family, some have been our clients for over ten twelve years, so the trust goes both ways. We see the industry like being part of a large family and at times we feel like we bring them all together, because whilst they compete with each other (so to speak), we are their tent makers. 

So as we are trying to view this whole industry as a family we can look at it this way, the structure or tent makers keep selling their dream homes to others, and the site owners are selling their dream lives as a product, so Glamping is a product that we all provide, an experience of a dream life we create for others. 

As early as 2008 I was talking to a campsite owner woman in what was one of the most renowned sites in France, and the picture she painted was, that the success of there site, having been in the papers, turned it into a constant stream of people visiting, she said they were like vampires, all wanting to find out about her, and telling her how she is living the dream, but in reality she felt broken, like they sucked the joy out of that dream life, as if she was actually selling her life, and they came to her campsite for it, rather than to enjoy it, so what started as a really nice small campsite that enjoyed families with young kids and open attitude, lost its charm and she felt it also lost its appeal as far as she was concerned, and eventually the site was sold. 

 I am over dramatising a point, because this industry works with people in their best moments, when they holiday when they get married, or at a festival, so usually there is a general positive vibe, and people are happy, although of course people complain about tents and being in nature etc, but the case im trying to highlight is of where we all were and where we saw it going, as a vision that is somewhat lost in interpretation. 

Cornish Tipi Holidays: one of the original Glamping Sites in the UK (even before the word ‘Glamping’ was invented.

The Heartland programme starts with us all as a family, whilst trying to bring back the focus of sustainability to the thing that matters most, our own lives, and our dreams, as tent makers and as site owners, it seeks to bring back the values and meaning and the feeling of being one tribe, to create a reality that sustains the owners and tent makers, and one that has environmental sustainability as a core.  

For many years all of this was just something that took place while we made tents for our clients, we tried to make some changes and influence the industry as a whole as early as 2009 when we made the world gathering of yurt makers, it was meant to be followed by a similar event for site owners. But like other things running a small business and our own way of living took precedence and so although we felt strongly about all of this we did not take it further, everyone seems to be occupied in running their sites, and trying to hack a living from this new life style business. 

The Industry has grown exponentially since then, and we try to do our best by holding some kind of centre for it as a family, helping our regular clients with support and advice, because we are all in it together. We focus a lot on collaboration because it allows us to do more, and we like taking part in more projects. 

It has provided a good livelihood for us, one that is hard work, but allows us to see the results immediately, sometimes we reflect on a tent we are making, realising that some 800 people are going to have amazing experiences in it, so its rewarding, although at the same time we feel we have been doing it for so long, especially in the run for Easter, when we have to wake up at 4am for months to catch up with all the new covers for another spring rush, all our campsites clients are opening up needing those new covers. We hold our breath for some 50 different covers to match the frames we tailored them to. Every client needs his covers yesterday, and its demanding meeting all of their different needs at the same time, but we enjoy it, and having got to know so many of the site owners on a personal level, its like a game we all play once or twice a year, and it works.

 What we want to talk about in this article is are own unique vision for this industry, and so our story takes us to an exciting country, Italy.  We have branched out into Italy to start our own campsite because we felt like the UK is a little saturated and the land based link and vision with rural development was broken, as a whole, we felt like something was missing in all of it, a meaning. 

 Here was a perfect chance to influence a developing market in a more integrated way. Upon seeing where the country is at and especially in those marginal mountain villages that are spread along the dragon backbone of the Apennines, we decided to try and do something much braver than we set out in the first place. We decided to try to tackle the Italian depopulation and rural abandonment through the tools of sustainable tourism, and the truth is that it was not all easy.

 We have found first, that Italians do not understand the back to nature approach, and why should they, everyone has some nona in the countryside, this is where you go to get bored, not to holiday. There is so much to choose from, the whole country is up for grabs and especially in the mountains. In the UK you can’t buy 5 acres of land to develop, in Italy people were offering us castles for maintenance fee only. Yet they themselves will prefer to go and holiday by the sea and eat lazily into the piazzas, so it took some convincing to get them ignited, to get them to understand why people want to go and live in a tent where there is nothing. 

To further explain this issue, we need to look at why camping is so sort after in the UK, and the reasons to me are two, one is that as a trend the country side is seen as somewhere to enjoy, and although this is admirable it stems from the countryside not being available to live in, the UK planning law makes it really hard for people to go and build in the open countryside, and so prices in the countryside have become extremely high, and it is as if nature is a commodity we can only see but not live in. The other point is that the trend or attitude we have to the countryside in the UK is taken from the upper classes. People do not see the country as somewhere you go to work yourself to the bone, it is seen as somewhere you go to enjoy, to holiday, to take the air. 

Victorian view of Camping

Italy is almost the opposite, anyone can build in the open countryside if only he owns enough agricultural land, but one hectare is enough, the countryside is mainly lived in by lower classes, who view it as some sort of old life they must shed. I know I am again over dramatising a point, because I have not met any people who love their land as much as Italian farmers, but the general trend or view is of disregard to the amazing natural beauty, as if they need someone form the outside to come and help them appreciate it, this point is also why Glamping has not caught as much in Italy, and of course there are many other factors, like the amount of amazing properties available to renovate in the countryside, or simply to buy and move into.

After 4 years of work thorough the Heartland Association, and endless meetings we now run a successful programme in this amazing country, born out of a simple idea to have our own site in which we offer a special sustainable tourism experience, but turning into a whole system for rural development through sustainable tourism. 

The programme aims to treat the owners as the first circle, so we try to help people to build smaller sites, with about three units. We prefer to encourage people to open up as an agriturismo, because this amazing Italian scheme is more flexible than setting a campsite, and less restricting, but its the meeting point of organic farming, and using the site as some sort of local engine selling and showcasing the local surrounds, through food an activity, it creates a steady stream of visitors that can have a high quality, slow tourism experience, and it allows the site owners to live comfortably in the countryside, and enjoy it because a small family can run three units easily by themselves, where if those were ten, the focus will be on running the business and not on the lifestyle. 

yurts italy
Yurt at the new Cerchio Del Desiderio Glamping, Abruzzo

We focus on elements like transformational events, special forms of farm to plate of organic produce, and integration with local community and tradition. One example is the ancient grains of Abruzzo, something we tried to promote as a link to health and the tradition of local farming, We have fallen in love with some of the local wheats, and have some exciting ideas about bringing those into the UK, but that is a matter for another time, every place in Italy has its own produce, its own olive oil, and its own cooking, so its easy to see how this system can work.

Another thing we focus a lot on is volunteers, so getting young people from all over the world to come and take part in our project, to learn new skills and have a cultural exchange, and in a way this part was also the most successful one as far as I am concerned because I have found that getting to people at a certain stage in their lives, before they even get to University and showing them another way can change them forever. Seeing some of those young people change from one end to the other, showcases to me that being exposed to an alternative lifestyle can make so much difference, so those are the elements of this program, its a call for slower tourism, more linked to experiencing the real location, helping the site owners enjoy a country lifestyle.

Because we can not actually meet the needs of all the projects we work with, as we run all of this alongside our tent making, we have gathered an impressive array of structure manufacturers, names like Outstanding tents, Featherdown farms, hot tub, sauna suppliers and log cabin builders. We contacted estate agents in areas that we deem are of special natural interest and of need of rural rebirth, mainly in the Abruzzo region that we love. So we now also have lists of amazing properties to develop that we can offer clients and people interested in moving abroad, and it’s a way for us to help people find properties that they will not have access to otherwise, because we have found that while a lot of people dream of that house in the sun, upon coming to the country they face one estate agent and potentially miss out on their dream home, and its a shame because moving abroad is already a big step, and it should be done correctly, But all of this is also an important part of this program, its collaboration, because we run all aspects with a larger body of others, it helps create cohesion, at times sites even help each other, and people use the same architect, and structures from the same suppliers, and it creates more cohesion and a level of respect for each other’s space of operations.

I guess at some point like any successful venture this whole system has taken wings of its own. We developed this system around a simple model, a small campsite that becomes a shop window for the local community, it sells organic end product on the site, and so the ssite’s own product is actually an experience of a sustainable life.

It creates a system of small sites that have their owners well being and country living at heart, their sustainability and economic well fare first, than they also become something of an ambassador for the local village or town, working with farmers in bringing back old fruit and veg varieties that were grown in the past, weaving it with the traditional food and tradition that Italy is so rich with, and of course bringing a steady stream of visitors to place of amazing natural beauty with historical interest, and in Italy that is the main tool to fight depopulation and abandonment by creating a steady flow of visitors, yet here too the flow has to be sustainable, because otherwise it overwhelms those small local communities and they become overrun so to speak, losing their unique rural footprint.

A beautiful site for a Glamping in Abruzzo

With the success of it all some new questions came up, and being part of the industry for so long in the UK we asked ourselves, why don’t we apply some of this in the UK too? We always wanted to do things differently, to focus on a more sustainable approach, to bring this family more together. Glamping used to a be family of people we knew, something that has now grown into a massive Industry, yet lost for direction, a common vision, a purpose in the larger scheme of things.

The question is how can we bring it into a role in rural development, and how can we reconnect all of its elements into a larger family that moves in a similar direction? This programme is now running in the UK too, because we see a call to create a system for sustainable rural development and regeneration through tourism.  

As a first step glamping sites can simply create a list of add-ons that are sourced locally and sold to the client, from food to craft, exploring the tradition, history and nature locally, and a lot of this is already happening. But what could happen much more, is using glamping as a window to living in nature full time, not just as a holiday, because if you like doing it for a week, why not find a way to do so all year round, it could be like a revolving door taking more and more people into sustainable lifestyles, homes in nature.

We feel that this way two things can happen, people who run sites can find a common ground with their visitors and actually focus more back on the dream that took them into such a lifestyle business to begin with. The point is that talking to a lot of our clients we feel that through working with so many visitors they have had to distance themselves from the site, some owners (usually the ones who run the bigger sites) do not even go on site anymore. And I feel that the initial dream they set out with is lost. What if they could play a role in taking people back to nature on another level too, they could support rural economy by creating a shop window for all the local growers, and more than all they could bring themselves to be sustained in their own dream, because when we speak about sustainability that is the aspect that is ignored most of all, the human element, the person behind the program, the person who runs the business. 

Like I said being in the centre of this big family has given us a unique view into the industry as a whole. Often it is very driven by profit and we all forget to ask ourselves where are we going with it, some part of this big family have become very successful, yet talking to them on the phone some days I feel like we are missing something, that tribal feeling we used to all share in beginning sitting around those fires together. 

I feel that on some level we failed to create an opening in to an alternative way of life that is more sustainable as a whole, and this is what a lot of us miss, that commonality. It like the shoemaker’s kids walking barefoot, I guess we miss walking barefoot  (I’m just joking) Im just saying there is a sell-off and dispersal of the values and life we used to cherish because we all turned them into a product, and so the idea is simple to use the product to take us back to the same place we started at. 

Samara Hawthorn at her land, Bryn yr Blodau, Pembrokeshire

I have a friend who is on the on the very interesting one planet development program in Pembrokshire, she is called Samara Hawthorn, this amazing program in Wales has got some 30-40 families through the application process, allowing them to build their homes in the open countryside, they need to showcase they get 60% of their income from the land and the site directly, and it has a set of parameters for low carbon foot print etc. 

 I think it ended up that a few of those pioneers so to speak, end up working endlessly to showcase another way of life simply by living it, they break their backs to do something which should be more supported, I feel that although planners have done amazing work by allowing people to build in the open countryside that way, and that the scheme as a whole is exactly the type of development we would love to see more of, it could be more sustainable for those families if they taught the life style by creating an experience. Their product can be teaching others to go into similar lifestyle, instead the focus on having to make a living mostly from growing makes the program very hard, because although the land base connection is very important, it creates a reality which is a little like open air museum rather than sustainble, and again the Human aspect is not as sustained as it could be in it, or atleast this is my reading of the situation, and this is a shame because so much good work has been done through this program, and Wales is so proud of it, so I wish we can help planners see it and develop it further, into a more extensive policy of back to nature, and creating small households with an opening to others to enter that lifestyle through those projects, I feel this is a true symbiotic relationship.

Yurt on land in Powys, Wales

In this way Glamping is no longer just a holiday, you come in as a tourist and you end up with a possibility of living it full time on your own sustainable household.

To summarise, the Heartland Programme that has run so successfully in Italy, is now running in the UK market too, and although it’s an older market we feel it’s a chance for us to try and do our part in influencing a more sustainable approach. And through the tools of collaboration and innovation we aim to try and focus on rural development vision in the UK too now, we feel we owe it to this industry and to many in our extended family. I feel that the time has come for this industry to see its role in shaping the countryside in another direction, if we can get planners to understand the scope of it too, so much more can be done, because at times its like fighting an endless battle, with the house market as it is, and farming where its at, I think it is a mistake that a whole flow of people trying to get back into the countryside in this way, isn’t helped more, and that the scope of this industry as a vehicle is missed, the fact that a decision has been made to conserve the countryside and not allow anyone to build in the open, has created a steady flow, a need that people have to touch it, to feel it to be in nature, and that should tell us all, that actually there is an endless need for people to go back to it as a lifestyle.  

So you have read it here first!, and if one day you walk into an amazing housing estate that looks like a Glamping site, or you find a small restaurants in a yurt serving organic food that uses ancient local foods with some forgotten Scottish names, or if we all wake up one day and see a whole network of small campsites that teach a different way of life while they bring people into nature, teach people how to do the same. You will then know this program has taken root. its just an alternative future for us in the UK and it is a more sustainable one. And if we manage to solve the housing issue at the same time then it’s an added bonus, because the technology and the solutions are there already, and as a whole there is an amazing movement going this way and we just all need to help it a little, to find a way to work together like the family that we have become, and remember where we all want to go next. 

That is how we work at least and this what our dream and vision is for the industry as a whole. 

Beltane Magic – a Heartland event.

This is our next event in the Heartland site in Abruzzo, Italy. This gathering is about exploring the link between consciousness and nature. In our events, we aim to take people into a lost link, a sort of tribal mindset. Join us for a week in nature learning to make yurts, green wood work, living in full off-grid open nature in the stunning mountains of Abruzzo.

Burning holes in Yurt Wheel

We have created a system for sustainable rural development, but our transformational events is the core of it all, it’s a way we teach others a lifestyle or a way of being. It’s about dropping the boundaries of separation we all hold in order to survive in western society, it’s about going back to a primal way of being. Into the trance of being a people, a tribe, a family.

We use the tool of group consciousness processing work, at past events we have taken groups right through, touching on inner connectivity to such a degree people became telepathic, they knew what each other felt, learned how to affect the weather through their feelings. We focus on conscious cooking as a way into wholeness and well-being. So those events in pure nature, whilst living as a group is our way of giving back and sharing a very special practice we have been taught ourselves.

The Heartland programme has turned into a small family of people who have been changed forever, and this is also a way we hope we can help them by re-connecting to support the openness they each have experienced and bring it into a sort of platform in which they help us share with others.

This event will take place from the weekend of the third of May until the end of the following week. But you are welcome to join us already on the first of May for Beltane.

You can expect to live in pure open nature, so mud and rain, and living in tents as part of a nomad tribe of others, sharing everything from food through work, to the most personal experience.

Our site is in the foot of the Majella massif, one of the most incredible mountains of Italy, to get here you will have to get a local bus to the town of Torricella Peligna from Lanciano (there is a bus from Stazione Storica every other hour or so). Flights to Pescara airport from Stansted with Ryan air are quite cheap, or to Rome. Pescara has a direct bus to Torricella Peligna every day at 11am (but none after). And from Rome you can even get a direct bus from the airport itself, through Dicarlo bus, or similar but those tend to use a drop just off the motorway and you will have to make your way somehow to Lanciano. We prefer people arrive before 4pm in the day. And hope that people can join us for the duration of the event so not to disrupt the flow. But it is open also if you can only come for the weekend etc.

Sweat Lodge in Italy
Lighting the sweat lodge fire

The event will end with a sweat lodge if we deem that the group is ready. and the whole experience calls for respect and openness for collaboration, because after all we live and work together, and we aim to help people go further into their deepest ability, so please come with that in mind, and with an open spirit.

The Best Campsite Opportunity​ in Abruzzo, Italy

As part of the new program we are running in Italy for sustainable development we are helping landowners and existing projects to realise their goals.

We have made a list of properties that are half-developed or which we believe are amazingly suitable for the creation of experiential tourism. Because this program we are running is geared towards rural development, its not just about connecting owners and buyers, or finding the best site etc, its about taking a whole area and marketing it, helping it become more developed, finding ways to get people to regenerate it.

Our current phase of the program is focusing on two amazing valleys in the heartland of Abruzzo, the Sangro and the Aventino, both of which are at the foothills of the Majella massif, with dotted medieval villages who aren’t touched by time, lakes (Bomba, and Lago di Casoli), and beautiful nature are what you can expect from this area, to us this is one of the best areas in Abruzzo for slow tourism.

The other day I went on a site survey for one of the properties we are looking to help develop, and as it is so remarkable we decided to feature it separately.

Nesteled in a quiet forest area at the end of the Sangro valley, not far from the touristic destination of Castle di Sangro, we explored this secret pearl, maybe the nicest terrain I’ve seen to date in Italy. In its origins it was the hunting grounds for an Italian baron, so its one of the case barronale you can find dotted in areas of extreme natural beauty, the gentry in Italy used to own spots they would retire to for sport, and nature, and this is such a spot.

It comprises of 7 hectares of open meadow with ancient oaks, the landscape reminds one of an English estate rather than an Italian one, there are further 3 hectares of land of forest.

The property was bought as a project that has never been completed, and the large historic villa was sold separately, although it too can be bought separately if of interest.

The site location is also very special, because although Abruzzo is an amazing land to discover, its mountain villages and town are usually little on the abandoned side, but Castle di Sangro boasts an endless stream of tourism, mainly because it is so close to the ski area of Roccaraso and because it lies on the valley bottom. Some of the local hotels are booked all year round and that is with 100 rooms or more, very unusual for Abruzzo.

A project to develop the site was already in place and received planning permissions – it comprises a main two-story restaurant and rooms for staying overnight, the building is of log cabin construction. A further and separate building that was meant to be used as a bar, and two wooden sheds or barns for horses etc.

Another advantage of this site, is that the owner is a log cabin builder, and he works very closely with an architect that already knows all the ins and outs of this property, one who already applied for planning for the site, this means that the long open-ended period of planning permissions and finding a builder to realise the project are already taken care of, and so even if the current project is not what you have in mind for your own site, anything else can be realised.

We love this site and feel it is by far the best opportunity we have seen so far in Abruzzo for a top end glamping site in nature. Having us onboard also means that an array of structure makers, from yurts to cabins, hot tubs and sauna are also available to choose from at discounted prices. Contact us to find out the price and more and hope you too will love this project. We can email the old planning permission and structure plans too for you to consider.

abruzzo land to buy
casa baronale
Abruzzo campsite for develpment
abruzzo land to buy
abruzzo land to buy
abruzzo land to buy
abruzzo land to buy
abruzzo land to buy
casa barrolnale
abruzzo land to buy
flower in abruzzo
abruzzo land to buy
abruzzo land to buy

The Heartland ​Program

We promised some exciting new plans for this year, and we have been working hard. We spent a lovely sun-bathed day putting a new yurt up in Pianella,  Abruzzo for a beautiful new campsite. This campsite is owned by one of our clients in the UK, so it was funny seeing two yurts going up at the same time in two different countries and symbolic in a way for where we are taking the Heartland rural development program, as a land bridge between the UK and the continent, sprouting new projects and sustainable rural development.

Trucks and yurts two of our greatest loves

We are attempting to steer Glamping into a new direction in earnest, and this is how the Heartland program was born. Being one of the main structure providers in the UK, has put us in a central position to influence our campsite clients and learn from them. This innovative  program is running parallel now both in Italy and in the UK. We started working with landowners, Estates, and small holdings on creating a new type of campsite, with sustainable development at heart. Kerry Roy who has become a good friend is a really good example, and we believe in her! She is the rising star of Glamping, everything this woman touches turns into gold, so keep your eyes peeled for her new Italian retreat centre! She manages the successful Camp Katur in the UK too.

Sand and green oak framed 14ft at Camp Katur

It was fun seeing yurts we made by Volunteers and in some of the transformational events we run, go up over the same week in two different countries.

As Italy is a waking market where Glamping is concerned, it has given us time to reflect and design things from the ground up, and what has started as a project aimed to build our own campsite in the mountains of Abruzzo has turned into something much bigger. We now run a full service for people wanting to set up campsites in Italy and have a list of properties we hand-pick that are gorgeous and perfect for this type of venture. We have also chosen some of the most beautiful structure providers with saunas, tents and more, alongside some local log cabin builders etc and of course let us not forget our own unique tents. This is a program that takes new owners, especially people from the UK by the hand through all the rigmaroles of setting up a newly sustainable campsite in Italy. But the success of this program has also brought up some questions for us because we work mainly in the UK.

We asked ourselves why don’t we do the same for rural areas in the UK, help land-owners and investors into a new program of rural development, help the large profile of campsites we work with move into a more sustainable route, and so the Heartland program is now coming to the UK too! Into a big and well-proven industry. So if you are a land-owner or someone wanting to set up a new site contact us for more details. If you want to take your new site along a more sustainable route we have a plug-in model that has been proven, but its also a way we can really give back to rural areas, to help preserve history and tradition, bring personal development and transformational events in integration with small scale country living.

In the meantime here are some nice photos of our yurt going up in Italy.

Kerry Roy loving her brand new yurt