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I'm an optimist at heart. I see half-full glasses everywhere I look, and get frustrated when others complain that they're half-empty, or aren't willing to join me in filling them. Especially when "filling the glasses" amounts to watering the garden to grow a greener world around us.

Ecotopia CoverSo when, at a tender age, I read Ernest Callenbach's "Ecotopia," (and later Ecotopia Emerging) I fell in love with his idiosyncratic yet melodramatic utopian vision of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest as an autonomous green state, featuring universal health care and recycling, a 20-hour workweek, solar energy, organic local food. Ernest Callenbach

I've ended up working in that region and around the country to bring that vision to life, to build communities where many elements of his dream are in our everyday reality, creating places that research shows start green and get greener. I even got to meet the author a couple times, most recently last year.

Thus it was with great sadness that I learned today of his passing April 16, at 83, 10 months after a cancer diagnosis. Join me over the fold for a reminiscence, and please share how he and his writings have influenced your life and work.

Bob Egelko penned a beautiful obituary for Ernest "Chick" Callenbach (his family raised chickens) in today's SF Chronicle. One in the LA Times has some more depth on his connections to the world of film, as you'd expect, but also acknowledgement of his inlfuence on Ralph Nader among others.

You can experience some of what Chick had to share on his website. I particular appreciate his "Earth's 10 Commandments" (available as a beautiful poster with art by David Goines): Earth by flickr user backgroundnow

Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.
Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.
Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.
Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.
Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.
Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth's riches upon weapons of war.
Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth's expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.
Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.
Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.
Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth's bounty
Of course, you can help flesh out his Wikipedia article.

When I brought home Callenbach's "Leaving Cheaply with Style: Live Better and Spend Less" my former wife nearly cried -- we had very different ideas about what success looked like, and for me an important element was finding ways to innovative, improvise, make do with less, recycle and re-use... while she felt like we needed some more tangible results of our success.

I'm just retired from the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) board, so I'm working to get them to upload Chick's article from the Fall, 2006 issue of Communities magazine, on real-world communities in Japan living an Ecotopian-influenced life; I'll update if and when that goes live on the web.

I particularly enjoyed the Ecotopia novels' embrace of appropriate technology, rather than rejecting all electronics -- for instance, universal videoconferencing and live TV broadcast of government proceedings. Not to mention electric mag-lev trains and high-tech detectors.

Budding authors, there is hope: Ecotopia was rejected by around two dozen publishers (saying "green is dead" in 1973) before friends helped him self-publish and it went on to sell nearly a million copies.

You can see pieces of Callenbach's influence on DK authors including Eco-Solartopia author harveywasserman, who interviewed him, transcribed in a diary here. Dauphin had a more-technical-yet-visionary diary in 2010, Slouching Towards Ecotopia.

Originally posted to raines on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 11:49 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, SFKossacks, and Street Prophets .


Ecotopia/Ecotopia Emerging represents for me:

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Comment Preferences

  •  Biking towards Ecotopia (19+ / 0-)

    Today I'm in Marin County, an Ecotopian outpost if ever there was one. I hopped the subway to carpool with my former cohousing neighbor to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marin Civic Center, and I'll be biking up the hill to work on technology bringing New Age Space Music to our computers, so I'll be participating intermittently for a bit. Marin Civic Center by flickr user hmdavid

    One of the greatest lessons for me of Ecotopia is to take time to be present with people and nature around us, and don't let external systems/corporations/governments unduly affect the pace of our lives. How will you be taking time today to appreciate our world and make it better?

  •  Ironically, I was just telling an old friend about (5+ / 0-)

    Ecotopia an hour ago. I haven't mentioned that book in a looong time. This summary of events leading up to the founding of Ecotopia (wiki) really got me:

    "These events occur against economic and political breakdown in the U.S.: corporate concentration, slashed government budgets and military adventurism abroad, aided by a compliant corporate media. The automobile habit has essentially bankrupted the U.S. Refusing to develop alternative energy sources, “oil-hungry America lurched toward some unseen economic catastrophe.” At the end, the Saudi oil refineries have been bombed, and the U.S. military is caught up in a war in the Middle East."
    Ecotopia Emerging was written in '81. Hmmm....

    “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

    by the fan man on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 12:08:15 PM PDT

  •  Two good books. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Both have left impressions on me for years. Every-so-often I go back to re-read them. Some pros and cons.

    •  the Chronicle Obituary reminded me (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man

      that my young idealistic self fell for the simplistic melodramatic good-versus-evil framing, not to mention the seduction of the reporter telling the tale.

      I'm less a fan of Ecotopia Emerging, as the sense of destiny for the inventor/protagonist and the forces she is overcoming, not to mention the technology itself, didn't engage me as much... I was more skeptical. In some ways, it's more like Avatar in that regard... an ultimate energy source, an "unobtanium" if you will.

  •  Forgot about those 10 commandments .. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    so sorry to hear about his passing.

    good to see you @ TedX Marin last week, raines. catch you soon as we further discuss ecohousing options in the northbay.

  •  I would love to try for a real Ecotopia (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That being said, recognize that Ecotopia is its own sovereign state; they have explicitly seceded from the United States.  What they have is possible because neither New York bankers, nor Southern good ol' boys, nor Washington imperialists have any say there.  It's a very regional idea; Ecotopia doesn't even include all of California.

    Ecotopia won't happen in real life so long as the rest of the country has anything to say about it because they won't tolerate such a radical disruption of their own little fiefdoms and folkways, no matter what they might have to gain by it.  

    Ecotopia is actually the exact opposite of the liberal Christo-Marxist narrative of universal salvation and earthly paradise thanks to an enlightened elite.  The Ecotopians aren't just secessionists; they're isolationists, sometimes to the point of xenophobia. They don't care what their former countrymen are doing and definitely don't want them coming over to do it here.  Tolerance of the narrator's different attitudes does not imply approval.

    Never attribute to stupidity what can be adequately explained by malice; stupid people couldn't hurt us so effectively.

    by Visceral on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 03:31:08 PM PDT

  •  Callenbach at New Alchemy Institute (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Ernest Callenbach spoke at a New Alchemy Institute Harvest Fair one year.  Seemed to be a nice guy.  He certainly had a vision of a possible future that resonated at least a little bit.  Will be missed.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 04:28:59 PM PDT

  •  Poll: other- (0+ / 0-)

    Hadn't heard of it...Will be on lookout, and try to check it out.


    The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

    by The Angry Architect on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 05:22:21 PM PDT

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