Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

I recently read this book after hearing about it from a friend multiple times. I have to admit the premise is very interesting; Washington, Oregon and Northern California secede from the United States to become Ecotopia. Also interesting is that it was published in 1975. It is written from the point-of-view of a reporter, William Weston, who is the first American allowed in the country in twenty years. The book alternates between his columns he is sending back to the US and his journal writings.

Many of the ideas in the book are beginning to be implemented now. For example, in Ecotopia all the plastics are made from plants. Weston reports what happens if these plastics come in contact with the soil:

“However, by chemical advances that have so far remained secret, Ecotopian scientists have built into these molecules “keyholes,” which can be opened only by soil micro-organisms! Once they are unlocked, the whole structure decomposed rapidly.”

And, here is what happened with dams in Ecotopia:

“The new government even went so far as to dynamite some of the dams which had been built on the rivers – on the dubious grounds that they prevented ‘white-water’ recreational boating or interfered with the salmon runs – which have been reestablished with great effort and enjoy much public support.”

We are currently seeing debate about dams all over the Pacific Northwest. And, salmon ladders are routinely added to dams these days. We’re talking about turning a small dam area here in Bend into a kayak or rafting throughway. Biodegradable plastics or compostable products are also more commonly being used. I think the most radical event in Ecotopia was that after the secession cars were immediately banned and a public transit system instituted.

I think this book raises some interesting ideas to think about. Actually I’d recommend just reading the dispatches and skipping the journal entries. The journal entries are in italics so that is easy to do. The plot involving the personal life of the journalist seems rather weak and can only really go in one direction. Will Weston fall in love? Will he stay in Ecotopia? If Ecotopia is all it seems to be, there can only be one reasonable decision.

1 comment:

Dr. DRL said...

Glad you gave it a read-- I've been teaching this for almost 15 years now and have found few other books that so quickly generate good discussion. The social relationships of Ecotopia-- the communal living, open sexual relationships, etc. --really set the students off as much (or more) than the environmental content.

There's a prequel called "Ecotopia Rising" that I can't recommend at all, but this one is a good airplane read for sure.