The magical island of Ibiza, Spain

You might remember my telling you about Kibbutz Lotan’s “Green Apprenticeship Program” in the Arava Desert in Israel. If not, I’ll remind you that it provides an incredible opportunity for young people to learn about permaculture and sustainable living. While visiting Lotan, people told me that the young people go off into the world to do good things. You might ask why I’m reminding you of this blog entry. Well, while sitting in the beauty of the island of Ibiza, Spain at Casita Verde, a young man, Shaul Shaham, was sharing about his experience in the very same program! He was there just last December beginning a 7-week program which absolutely changed his life. He says he now “lives” the program every day of his life. The interns, learning about permaculture, build geodesic dome cottages which are finished with cob (a combination of mud and straw and water). Shaul is now living in Ibiza and is starting a construction company to build geodesic homes out of local materials. He’s also partnering with “Green Heart” (more about that later) to build such a dome as part of a sustainable project. I was bowled over by the serendipity of this encounter! My hats off to Kibbutz Lotan for the fine work they are doing.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the kinds of opportunities one has when visiting Casita Verde on Ibiza. When I researched Transition Towns to visit on the website, I was impressed by what I read about Transition Island Ibiza. ( I immediately sent an email to the contact person, Chris Dews, and was invited to visit with an offer of hospitality. Little did I know then that Ibiza is known as being a party island, an oasis for vacationers looking for a good time! But deep in the heart of the island is a different kind of oasis–one that offers a vision of a sustainable future and one that is still filled with fun. At Casita Verde I encountered people from Austria, Germany, South Africa, France, Uruguay, England, United States, and various places in Spain, just to mention a few! Learn more about the work there or find out how you can contribute to the work at or Or in the U.S. one can contribute to the Center for Cultural Exchange at to help give young people an opportunity to learn sustainable living.

So, I need to back up a bit. Chris Dews settled in Ibiza 28 years ago, relocating from England. Ibiza inhabits 120,000 permanent residents and that number swells to 170,000 with all the “residential tourists” and vacationers. Chris is a bit of a renegade who evolved into a defender of Earth. He found a wonderful, very small, house to rent about 8 kilometers outside of town, high in the hills. He doesn’t officially rent the land surrounding the house, but has had free access to it. With that access, and much help from many people, young and old, over the years, he has developed an “eco community.”

People who come as volunteers have many options of “casitas,” or small one-room houses which have one or two beds. The varieties include a yurt (where I slept), a teepee, a small house with a tree growing through the middle of it, a couple of caves, and many more inventive spaces. Structures have been built with bottles and cob, metal cans and cob, local wood, and lots of stones, bricks, and whatever else could be found. It’s hard to call the bathrooms “outhouses” since they are so beautifully constructed and the interiors all completed with recycled tiles and creative little touches that make them a pleasure to be in. The shower is surrounded by glass so while washing up you’re taking in the beauty of the place. (I showered early in the morning, being an early riser, and so felt totally at ease of being alone!)

As well, the sun generates the hot water and most of the electricity as well. Rain water is harvested for all Casita Verde uses, including irrigation. Using permaculture principles, there are gardens, fruit trees, and an amazing respect for the land. Over the years Chris has created the “Greenheart” organization which seems to be the umbrella for all the activities I’ve mentioned. There are green hearts everywhere at Casita Verde–on the cars, t-shirts, imbedded in the buildings, and in the hearts of the people working there. (I left with a Greenheart bag, pins, and stickers galore and one now graces my laptop.) Chris explains that when we all have “green hearts” the world will be full of the possibility of resilience in the face of the threats to the planet.

A volunteer from the United States, Jeffrey Caston, arrived the same day I did. He just finished his first year at the University of Colorado-Boulder where he is majoring in environmental studies. He was looking for a summer opportunity to work on a sustainable project (he’s an animal rights activist) and experience another culture. He wanted to learn about permaculture, how to cook his own food, use less water, and to figure out ways to enhance his life so he can help others change their lives. The summer before he had worked at an engineering firm (what he thought would be his major) and after being in a cubicle for many hours a day, decided it was not a career for him. He found Greenheart through the Center for Cultural Exchange. He wasn’t sure what his work would be, but was delighted when he learned he would help construct the geodesic dome cottage and was put right to work making the connectors and matching them with reeds already cut to length. Jeffrey’s vision for a sustainable society is one in which everyone works together and where money is not the driver, but instead adequate water, food, and shelter is primary. He’s evolving towards being a vegan–he hopes for a world where all creatures are treated equally, otherwise he feels we are doomed. What hope it gives me to meet such a dedicated young man who will, indeed, make a difference in the world.

Every sunday Casita Verde is host to a community dinner. The volunteers clean up the place and cook enough vegetarian food for at least 80 people. The participants become members of Greenheart and then pay 7.00 euros (about $10) for the delicious meal. Many young families come to the Sunday dinners and the children run free, enjoying the many child-friendly places which abound. (I have to mention here that the place is extremely clean. The composting toilets, shower, and kitchen are always spotless. I was so impressed. Chris insists on it and also insists that the “casitas” are always clean for possible visitors taking a tour.)

Another serendipitous encounter was withe Jonny Lee, who lives in Ibiza and Jim McNulty, who lives in England. They are partners, producing music events to raise money for various charities. (You can find out more about their work at or I mention them now because they are part of the production of “Earth Dance International”, an annual event that takes place all over the globe in over 60 countries and 100 cities. In 2011 the event takes place on September 24, the same day as the big international event. I saw the great possibilities of collaboration with the two groups and have introduced them to the folks, hoping for continuing growth of uniting as many people as possible for a resilient and sustainable planet. Chris Dews mentioned that there has been a event at Casita Verde.

Where does Transition come in, you might ask? Well, a couple of years ago Chris and some others heard of the Transition movement and saw what a great match it was to what they were already doing. It’s hard to separate the Transition Initiative from Greenheart. I had the opportunity to interview some of the core Transition team–Jose Garcia (Jose G.), Jose Luis Rodriguez Pozuela (Jose P.), Yuron Wallin, and Chris Dews. One woman central to the Transition Team and Green Heart was away caring for a grandchild. (Just told to you so that you don’t think it’s all men on the team!)

Jose G., from Alicante, Spain, has collaborated with Chris 1 1/2 years and began living at Casita Verde 8 months ago. He works on strategic planning and advising, projects coordinating, and government and external relations for Greenheart. He shared with me that he had a long family relationship with Ibiza, and that when he heard about the work of Greenheart he found an opportunity to give something back to the island. Jose G. joined the Transition team because he thinks the Transition movement is one of the ideal ways to achieve change in a non-violent and efficient way. He liked the idea that local people take action instead of waiting for government to take the lead. He admitted that it’s hard to keep up the momentum, but is committed to working at it.

Jose P. has lived on the island for 1/ 1/2 years, is on the core Transition team, and helps out at Casita Verde. Jose P. believes that permaculture is a good philosophy for bettering our world and so therefore saw the Transition movement as a nice way, a happy way, and a playful way to be connected with each other and with nature. He believes we need to think with our hearts.

Chris said that Transition is what he was already doing, and when he learned of the movement he saw the opportunity to join with others around the world, without having to create the network himself.

Yoran is originally from Sweden and has lived in Ibiza for four years. He has been working with many types of body work and psychology. He believes that having more cooperation in the local society holds out great hope. He’s inspired by the local projects and the community where people are invited to contribute and to cooperate. He believes that the island is a good example of how things will develop in the future. He said that Ibiza has always been a little ahead of the world in music, fashion, and lifestyle and that now Ibiza is ahead because of it’s global culture. People are very tolerant and cooperative with each other and there’s never been any ethnic problems. For the future he believes it will be a fusion of ecology and healing and new types of networking. He said that Ibiza has a very young atmosphere and people are looking for something new to replace the old ideologies. Yoran believes there is a global awakening, that people are becoming more informed about how things work, and that there are other possibilities, other solutions for things like food production, food distribution, energy production, and energy distribution. He believes there are so many smart solutions available so we don’t need to use up the world’s resources.

Jose P.’s vision is that the island will be a sustainable place, self-sufficient, and that they will export goodness, good ideas out to the world. His concept is that Ibiza will be harvesting goodness and light and that it will be a real democracy. He compared the current Spanish “revolution” to the Transition movement and shared how this new change in consciousness might be like a virus and infiltrate everywhere! Jose G.’s vision is based on his concept of “less.” In other words how can we change the pattern of more is better. How can we learn to conserve and reduce consumption. The vision also includes being able to apply all the sustainable solutions to the island–to create a “no-waste” island–that this should be the driver. If a project proposal does not live up to the “no-waste” criteria, it won’t be approved. For example, he pointed out that nuclear might be fine, but there’s a huge amount of waste generated and therefore a nuclear power plant wouldn’t be allowed to be built based on the “no-waste” ideal. He envisions “growing” solar power as well as vegetables. He warns that we cannot promote electric vehicles if we don’t first make sure that the source of the electricity is renewable and clean. As well everyone on the island would only use recycled or “eco” products. And finally Jose G. would like to see Ibiza attract the best “brains” and become a global, environmental think tank, and be an example and inspire the world.

Chris’s vision for Ibiza is a “Greenheart Island” for he says that where every person has a green heart you’ve “cracked it.” Once they’re connected through their heart all else will follow. The changes will come slowly, solar on rooftops, eliminate bottled water, and all the other “stupid things people are doing.” Neighbor will speak with neighbor, inspiring more green hearts to grow. For example, one might say, “Look, I’ve given up my gasoline-powered mower and am now using a solar-powered one and see how well it works.” We need to change the current paradigm and Ibiza is the place to do it. There are over a hundred cultures living on the island, a party island, and, “when are people more receptive to change but when they are having a good time?” asked Chris. He says the whole world is represented in Ibiza. They’re going to take Transition and put a green heart on it and see where it goes. Chris encourages everyone to use the Greenheart logo (Just a simple green heart) to promote a sustainable world and then let know how it’s being used.

Jose P. believes we are evolving into a new understanding and into a better world. He’s quite optimistic and believes we must not lose faith–that we can stem the tide of unsustainable forces at work in the world. Chris does believe there is a global vision emerging. He warns that it takes time–be patient, work hard for it–but change is coming. “Yes, there’s a global vision emerging,” Jose G. believes. He sees the people around the world who are working on resilience and connecting with one another through the internet and conferences.

I think being at such an international and sustainable setting as Casita Verde would inspire anyone to feel that something exciting is happening, something hopeful, something that encourages us to get up each morning, ready to make a difference.

About ruahswennerfelt

I am searching for a global vision for a sustainable, resilient world in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability.
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