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Ecotopia Paperback – March 1, 1990
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"A classic of earth consciousness." —Denis Hayes, original coordinator of Earth Day
"Essential reading for all who care about the earth's future."—Fritjof Capra, author of The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point
"None of the happy conditions in Ecotopia are beyond the technical or resource reach of our society."—Ralph Nader
From the Publisher
"Callenbach gives us a vivid, comprehensive, positive vision of an ecologically sustainable world. essential reading for all who care about the earth's future."--Fritjof Capra, author of the Tao Of Physics and the Tuming Point.
"A classic of earth consciousness."--Denis Hayes, Earth Day.
Ecotopia was founded when northern California, Oregon, and Washington seceded from the Union to create a "stable-state" ecosystem: the perfect balance between human beings and the environment. Now, twenty years later, the isolated, mysterious Ecotopia welcomes its first officially sanctioned American visitor: New York Times-Post reporter Will Weston. Like a modern Gulliver, the skeptical Weston is by turns impressed, horrified, and overwhelmed by Ecotopia's strange practices: employee ownership of farms and businesses, the twenty-hour work week, the fanatical elimination of pollution, "mini-cities" that defeat overcrowding, devotion to trees bordering on worship, a woman-dominated government, and bloody, ritual war games. Bombarded by innovative, unsettling ideas, set afire by a relationship with a sexually forthright Ecotopian woman, Weston's conflict of values intensifies-and leads to a startling climax.
"None of the happy conditions in Ecotopisa are beyond the technical or resource reach of our society."--Ralph Nader
Top Customer Reviews
I still love this book, because of all that. When written during the 1970s, it was so "out there" for its time--that reading it now is terribly dated. It's almost like watching 1950s movies about space flight....But this book (in its own weird way) was an important book that helped inspire the environmental movement. No, it's not Rachal Carsons's "Silent Spring," but it reads a heck of a lot better than "Unsafe at any Speed."
If you're in your forties (or older), and want a drift back to the "future" of 1970, or you're younger & want to know why your parents are so weird--Read this book. Or if you are an environmentalist, and want to know where your roots lie--this is a good book to read.
But if you don't have any special interest, and are just looking for a ripping good yarn to pass a rainy saturday afternoon....It's not this book, babe.
BUT...there is something decidedly specious about the ideals represented in the book, and in truth it was sometimes hard to tell if Callenbach was being sincere or satirical. Valid objections about the Ecotopian timeline aside, as well as its obvious hippy vintage, Ecotopia's almost enforced diversity--albeit in a non-bourgeois lifestyle--passive-aggression, and occasional totalitarian structure make even a tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberal like me raise an eyebrow. Ecotopia sounds like a place that's better than Hell, but still ten floors below Heaven.
Recommended, but with a grain of salt; definitely not a play-book for the perfect society.
Let us dispense with a few weaknesses to the novel. First, it uses the Visitor to Utopia plot, which is as old as Thomas More and which is by this time fairly predictable. I hope that readers will not rise up in wrath when I reveal that the hard-headed reporter who enters Ecotopia eventually becomes converted to the Ecotopian way of life. Second, Callenbach is frequently guilty of loading the dice in favor of his society. (The Ecotopians are healthier than most Americans, crime is almost nonexistent, and the sex in Ecotopia is just so doggoned much _better_.) A third problem is that much of what goes on in Ecotopia depends on its being isolated from the rest of the world. For example, hunting, woodcraft, and carpentry are taught as major parts of the school curriculum. This makes a certain amount of sense if your purpose is to give children an education in practical skills that they will need in their own society. But shouldn't education cover content areas that go beyond the boundaries of your own country?
On the other hand, there are some definite strengths to the novel. The narrator, a journalist named William Weston, is intelligent, observant, and engaging. (Many utopian visitors are rather wooden-headed.) His observations of Ecotopia, told in a series of journal and notebook entries from May 3 through June 25, are clear, concrete, and relaxed in style. The novel is, in fact, remarkably easy to read. Well, what are some of the characteristics of the society that Weston is exploring?
First, the technology is-- selective. It has been used to develop elaborate recycling systems, from sophisticated sewer systems to recycling trucks and centers to the use and re-use of biodegradable plastics. Gasoline cars have been outlawed in favor of electric cars, magnetic monorails, and public bicycles. Some electronic equipment (can openers, hair curlers, skillets) are absent, but others (television, videophones, refrigerators) are present. If this seems a bit "low tech" to some readers, remember: It is the task of the utopian author to construct a society that can be built using present-day technology. Utopias based on lots of fantastic, futuristic devices are not, ultimately, believable.
Second, Ecotopia has become more rural and less urban. To be sure, there are still cities such as San Francisco. But there is less urban sprawl (many old business skyscapers have been converted to apartments), more parks and gardens, and less smog (since petroleum cars have been banned). Many people are living in small communities, and the population in Ecotopia has gradually diminished through the use of birth control. Woodlands and farmlands have spread, and many Ecotopians are now forest rangers or cowboys. Dams have been demolished to return rivers to their natural state. Power comes from solar plants, sea power, and a few fusion plants. Animals have returned in great numbers to Ecotopia, and controlled hunting is encouraged.
Third, there has been a breaking away from the Protestant work ethic and large group activities. There is a twenty hour work week, factories are run on an informal basis rather than in an assembly-line manner. Work crews and volunteers for chores do their tasks in an unhurried, gamelike manner. Citizens are encouraged to spend time doing arts and crafts. Individual sports, such as hiking or camping, are encouraged, while spectator sports, such as baseball or football, are virtually nonexistent. As Weston notes, the sports pages in Ecotopia make rather dull reading. But more citizens are physically fit.
Finally, there are the dark-- or at least more controversial aspects-- of Ecotopia. The citizens are direct, emotional, and loudly argumentative. They frequently engage in lover's quarrels and family disputes, and they are often taking sides in a discussion over the quality of food in a restaurant or in political debates. There is also a strong Survivalist element in Ecotopia, and many citizens engage in aggressive war games. (Some Ecotopians may be druidic tree-huggers, but they are _not_ sentimental and weak.) The nuclear family is gradually giving way to communal families. Most blacks have chosen to live in voluntary "city states" in the Oakland area, indicating a kind of _de facto_ separation of racial cultures. Opposition leaders who want closer relations with the United States are an underground movement. They are quickly squashed by the government. One wonders how much freedom of speech is really allowed in this society.
Yet I find, somewhat to my surprise, that I wouldn't mind living in Ecotopia. Our current government is so corrupt, so incompetent, so cowardly, and so little concerned with public welfare that Ecotopia seems wonderful by comparison. This is how utopian satire works. You say, "If this imaginary world, with all its faults, looks good... then what are we to say about the world in which we live?"