This article argues that we need to look at living examples provided by non-state communities in various regions of the world that are, perhaps unwittingly, contributing to the maintenance of the Earth’s optimal thermal balance. These fully sustainable communities have been living outside the mainstream for centuries, even millennia, providing examples in the global struggle against the degradation of social–ecological systems. They have all, to varying degrees, embraced simple forms of living that make them ‘exemplary ethical communities’ (EECs)—human communities with a track record of sustainability related to forms of traditional knowledge and the capacity to survive outside the capitalist market and nation-state system. The article proceeds in three steps: First, it condenses a large body of research on the limits of the existing nation-state system and its accompanying ideology, nationalism, identifying this institutional–ideological complex as the major obstacle to tackling climate change. Second, alternative social formations that could offer viable micro-level and micro-scale alternatives are suggested. These are unlikely to identify with existing nation-states as they often form distinct types of social communities. Taking examples from hunter-gatherer societies and simple-living religious groups, it is shown how the protection and maintenance of these EECs could become the keystone in the struggle for survival of humankind and other forms of life. Finally, further investigation is called for, into how researchers can come forward with more examples of actually existing communities that might provide pathways to sustainability and resistance to the looming global environmental catastrophe.
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