May 9, 2012


"Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth." 
- Ernest Callenbach
In 2012, at the end of times, there is no shortage of nightmarish events, real or imagined. Decay is delicious, and sickness sells whether it is newspapers or entertainment.

Violent post-apocalyptic movies like The Hunger Games is what people want to see. The morose movie-going public vaulted that bad dream into several box office records.

But what about perfections for the pacifist, hope for the incurably hopeful, and caring for the compassionate? What about utopian visions that help us stretch our minds to consider outcomes of balance and beauty?

Unfortunately, utopian optimism does not seem to have the same box office draw as its darker, more chaotic sibling. Utopian visions are often accused of being pollyannaish, which is a belittling insult for being absurdly optimistic and unrealistically good-hearted, as if there is something wrong with that. 

Why is it so hard to believe that the world really could be a place where things work out, everyone gets along (more or less), and compassion toward all living things reigns?

Ecotopia, written by Ernest Callenbach in 1975, is one such vision, built on the principles of ecology and the concept of living lightly on the earth. And what is its 'absurdly optimistic' vision? Simply that of an ecologically sustainable society triumphing over one that continues on the path of death and destruction.

Although it has some excellent ideas, I admit that it may be overly optimistic to think that California, Oregon, and Washington State could ever split from the rest of the US to become an ecological utopia.

Or maybe not. Perhaps we could get British Columbia, Canada included in the new nature paradise (Cascadia as the real incarnation is called).

I first became familiar with the ecological novel when I came across Callenbach's The Earth's 10 Commandments online.

The Earth's Ten Commandments
  1. Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.
  2. Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.
  3. Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.
  4. Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.
  5. Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.
  6. Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth's riches upon weapons of war.
  7. Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth's expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.
  8. Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.
  9. Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth. 
  10. Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth's bounty. 
I recently picked up Ecotopia at the public library, and have found that it is full of life-guiding ideas like The Earth's 10 Commandments. Others ideas that have piqued my interest so far are:
  • Ecotoptians have TV, but use it very selectively. They do not let TV use them.
  • All TV commercials are between programs, not during programs. Most are simple product descriptions and ingredient lists.
  • Advertising can not use adjectives, nor appeal to 'specialists'.
  • Before any product is built, regular people have to prove that they can repair the prototype themselves with simple tools.
  • There is much more leisure time with a 20 hour work week.
  • Bicycles and trains are the most popular modes of transportation.
  • Before you build a house you have to spend time in the woods planting, and cutting trees.
  • Fossil fuels were banned, and all infrastructure such as gas stations were dismantled.
  • All food is grown organically and sustainably. 
  • Individual cars are outlawed, and most streets have been converted to linear parks complete with creeks, trees, and wildlife.
  • Community building is essential to the running of Ecotopia.
  • Nature and happiness are more important than 'the economy'.
I realize you can't have the light without the dark, but I will probably never see The Hunger Games. I don't need its message of doom and despair.

I am holding out for more positive portrayals of a good old boring world such as Ecotopia where people get along with each other and with nature, and everything works just fine. Not that I think that sustainability is boring - quite the opposite. It is the ultimate adventure for a more hopeful future. 

Dystopian thinking leads us to believe that the worst is inevitable. Utopian thinking reminds us that a better world can be imagined and made real.

Ernest Callenbach returned to the earth that he loved so much in April of this year. He was 83. Ecotopia sold over a million copies and has been translated into several languages.

You can read a piece of writing found on Callenbach's computer after his death here. In it he hopefully says, "A vision of sustainability that sometimes shockingly resembles Ecotopia is tremulously coming into existence at the hands of people who never heard of the book."

An optimist to the end. Thank you Mr. Callenbach.


  1. Thank You Gregg for bringing this author to our attention.

    For quite a while I've found it difficult to be hopeful in this present state of the world. But there has been a shift in my thinking as of late. I'm finding hope in small things, taking notice of kindness and co-operation in those around me. Maybe believing that things can work for the good of all isn't just a dream. Maybe we can breathe hope into life just by believing it to be so.

    1. In spite of how things appear, kindness and cooperation rule the day. I am convinced that love and compassion will overcome all of our struggles.

      Belief is strong. If we can imagine something, we can achieve it. A better world is being created moment by moment.

      Today is a great day to be alive!


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