Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Times recalls the 1970s cult novel Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach.

The Novel That Predicted Portland

SOMETIMES a book, or an idea, can be obscure and widely influential at the same time. That’s the case with “Ecotopia,” a 1970s cult novel, originally self-published by its author, Ernest Callenbach, that has seeped into the American groundwater without becoming well known.

The novel, now being rediscovered, speaks to our ecological present: in the flush of a financial crisis, the Pacific Northwest secedes from the United States, and its citizens establish a sustainable economy, a cross between Scandinavian socialism and Northern California back-to-the-landism, with the custom — years before the environmental writer Michael Pollan began his campaign — to eat local.

White bicycles sit in public places, to be borrowed at will. A creek runs down Market Street in San Francisco. Strange receptacles called “recycle bins” sit on trains, along with “hanging ferns and small plants.” A female president, more Hillary Clinton than Sarah Palin, rules this nation, from Northern California up through Oregon and Washington.

Note that Callenbach actually lives in Berkeley, where the climate is better :-(

On the other hand, Brad DeLong was impressed by our six kinds of recycling at U Oregon.

It's easy to forget that today's widely accepted environmentalism started as a crazy fringe social movement only 35 years ago. I can clearly remember during my childhood when it suddenly became not OK to just throw trash out the window of your moving car. (Remember the crying Indian chief TV spot? See below!) This development is captured nicely in an episode of the AMC TV series Mad Men (about 1960s Madison Ave. ad men), in which Don Draper and his lovely WASP upper class family have a nice picnic in the woods, and in the final shot leave behind a pile of rubbish and beer cans sitting in the grass. I think this means that there is hope for humanity -- we'll eventually figure out that preserving the environment is in our best interest as a species.

Incidentally, Mad Men is the only thing on TV I watch regularly, aside from ultimate fighting. At a holiday party earlier in the week the show came up in conversation and I found that randomly selected literature and film professors also love it :-) Sadly, I don't know anyone on the faculty who is excited about BJ Penn versus Georges St. Pierre in January.


A. said...

I remember when the book came out and some reviewers at the time correctly described it as a blueprint for eco-fascism. Recently James Hansen testified that critics of Global Warming should be sent to jail for crimes against humanity.

Anonymous said...

wouldn't it be nice if 6 billion people could live on earth without destroying it. wouldn't it be nice if men had wings.

environmentalism is fringe as long as population isn't its focus.

hcl said...

Fascists tend to take excellent care of natural capital, especially the 1930s and early 1940s ones.

Anonymous said...

There was a controversy about that Indian actually being an Italian guy from New Orleans.

Ben said...

Agree about Mad Men, what a brilliant show.

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