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A Green-Powered Trip Through Ecotopia (Callenbach interview)
Ernest Callenbach and Harvey Wasserman, CounterPunch
Who Will Control It: the Corporations or the Public?
This free-ranging conversation between Ernest Callenbach, author of the legendary Ecotopia (1974), and Harvey Wasserman, author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030 (2007), about our green-powered future was filmed by EON and can be viewed here.
Harvey Wasserman: It’s an honor to be with the author of Ecotopia, which inspired me and so many others to become active on environmental issues.
It also inspired me to write Solartopia, What I’d like to talk about is getting from Ecotopia, the first vision of an ecological society, to Solartopia, a vision of a totally green-powered Earth. Yours is the first realized vision of an ecological society and thirty years later I’ve tried to write a companion or follow-up piece with a vision of a solar-powered society.
I read Ecotopia in the early seventies and I just re-read it, and what’s amazing and shocking and gratifying about it to me, as I’m sure it is to you, is how much of it came true.
Ernest Callenbach: Not enough.
Harvey: So what inspired you to write Ecotopia?
Ernest: Well, the story actually begins with sewage. I had written a book called Living Poor With Style which was a guide to how you can live better for less, which was the first one of what’s now an enormous volume of books about that stuff, and I was looking around for a new project, and I ad been brought up in the country in central Pennsylvania and everything was recycled because there was nobody to haul it away, and I was dimly aware that we were living in a society of about that time about 200 million people and we were just eating away and pooping away and all the waste was just being gotten rid of as we thought at the time. It was being burnt it was being barged out to sea, everything except recycling it as nutrient material back onto the land.
And I thought….there’s something really crazy going on here, biologically crazy. And so I began to write this article called “The Scandal of Our Sewage” all about how we were making a big mistake, and I started going to the University of California at Berkeley’s library on sanitary engineering—believe it or not, Berkeley has such a thing—and I discovered that in our society when you have two paths, and path A is cheaper than path B, you take path A even though path B is biologically sane and path A is not.
… Harvey: You had a mass transit system in Ecotopia that really worked.
Ernest: Ecotopia, like your Solartopia, is very decentralized, so there’s not so much moving around with machines o any kind, much more walking, much more bicycling, much more local transit oriented things. We’ve made a little progress in that and we’re making some more and we’ll have to make much more, of course as post Peak Oil comes on. And in that respect you can also be hopeful in that the thinking of city planners and to a large extent city officials has really undergone a revolution since Ecotopia came out. It’s not due to Ecotopia so much but it’s the legacy of Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities, and people who have followed that kind of thinking on what makes cities valuable and above all what makes them efficient, because cities are really a much more efficient way of human beings living that being dispersed throughout the countryside, everybody with a car and a separate homestead and a twenty-mile drive to what they need to do to live,
What we need to do is to make our cities more compact and more efficient and to make them produce both energy as you have in Solartopia and for that matter food. Paris was a food exporter into the 19th Century, and if the French can do it, we can do it.
… Ernest: If you’re going to eat meat, buffalo doesn’t have anti- biotics, it doesn’t have hormones, very low fat. It tastes good… In the whole, when we look at agriculture, the thing that always comes back to my mind is that we are presently in net negative energy agriculture. That is to say we are really eating oil. If we weren’t pumping all this petroleum into agriculture we wouldn’t have anything to eat.
What we need is to go back to net positive energy agriculture which is what people have lived on this planet ever since there were people. That involves a lot of very important changes which organic farmers are in a position to make, but which traditional business farmers are not.
It’s almost like an ecological succession pattern. The organic farmers are doing very well. They are not hurt as much by high fuel costs as are the commercial farms. So all over the world, there is an upwelling of low-energy input farming. Gradually the big farms I think are goiong to die out. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. But in the long run, that’s not the way to do agriculture.
… Harvey: We need the sort of agriculture where people can control their own food supply. So the Eco-Solartopian model is a democratic one, with a small “d.”
I think that’s why Ecotopia has remained such an important book. It’s a grassroots, people-oriented, human empowering and feminist view of the world. So the hardware that comes in with Solartopia, and the dealing with the corporate issues explicitly, it really comes around full circle.
Ermest: They’re both very hopeful books. That’s why it’s neat to talk with you. We come at it from a different perspective, getting into it differently than I did. But the results are very parallel, very akin.
People—especially young people in our world—are very hungry for hope. I don’t think it was a dumb thing for Barack Obama to talk about hope so much. That’s a really significant thing, how people feel about life. What they do. Whether they’re galvanized into activity, or whether they sortof sit back and wait for things to fall in on their head. Nobody likes to feel that way.
Ernest: … In Ecotopia I was trying to imagine that politics was really year-round fun. In America political parties are like balloons that blow up for a while and then after the election they all go pssst, leaving in place just a few key players. But Ecotopian and Solartopian politics would have to be continual affairs, where people are involved with what’s going on all the time. They would have to invent new ways to make it fun. Of which voting is only one part of the series of things that people do. It’s very dismaying to me that people are losing faith in the fairness of our election counting. That is a really fatal thing for our would- be democracy.
(5 June 2009)
Long joint interview about two green visions. Much from the original Ecotopia has entered the discourse, though as Callenbach points out, “not enough” has actually come true. Callenbach and Wasserman are more optimistic about biofuels than most peak oilers.
Why This Crisis May Be Our Best Chance to Build a New Economy
David Korten, YES! Magazine
Wall Street is bankrupt. Instead of trying to save it, we can build a new economy that puts money and business in the service of people and the planet—not the other way around.
Whether it was divine providence or just good luck, we should give thanks that financial collapse hit us before the worst of global warming and peak oil. As challenging as the economic meltdown may be, it buys time to build a new economy that serves life rather than money. It lays bare the fact that the existing financial system has brought our way of life and the natural systems on which we depend to the brink of collapse. This wake-up call is inspiring unprecedented numbers of people to take action to bring forth the culture and institutions of a new economy that can serve us and sustain our living planet for generations into the future.
The world of financial stability, environmental sustainability, economic justice, and peace that most psychologically healthy people want is possible if we replace a defective operating system that values only money, seeks to monetize every relationship, and pits each person in a competition with every other for dominance.
From Economic Power to Basket Case
Not long ago, the news was filled with stories of how Wall Street’s money masters had discovered the secrets of creating limitless wealth through exotic financial maneuvers that eliminated both risk and the burden of producing anything of real value. In an audacious social engineering experiment, corporate interests drove a public policy shift that made finance the leading sector of the U.S. economy and the concentration of private wealth the leading economic priority.
Corporate interests drove a policy agenda that rolled back taxes on high incomes, gave tax preference to income from financial speculation over income from productive work, cut back social safety nets, drove down wages, privatized public assets, outsourced jobs and manufacturing capacity, and allowed public infrastructure to deteriorate. They envisioned a world in which the United States would dominate the global economy by specializing in the creation of money and the marketing and consumption of goods produced by others.
As a result, manufacturing fell from 27 percent of U.S. gross domestic product in 1950 to 12 percent in 2005, while financial services grew from 11 percent to 20 percent.
Sightline’s project to articulate the principles of sustainability, plus a catalog of the top solutions for the Northwest and ways to live more sustainably.
As part of Sightline’s research, we’ve developed a number of tools to help you talk about, share, and work toward a better Northwest. These include our project on key values and principles of sustainability; primers on the most important solutions for the region; and how-tos on how you can live more sustainably.
And for quick inspiration, see Alan Durning’s essay on “Sustainability’s Slow-Motion Revolution.”
Sightline stands for four core values, or principles, of sustainability–responsibility, community, fairness, and opportunity–as well as key action steps to support these values. Read about them on this page.
Prevent Pollution Before It Happens
A new twist on an old idea can multiply the reuse and recycling of materials and encourage manufacturers to eliminate pollution before it happens.
Make Emergency Contraception Widely Available
The Northwest can curb unintended pregnancies by ensuring easy access to emergency contraceptive pills such as Plan B.
Solutions for Healthier Communities
Individuals and institutions can take simple steps to create compact, complete communities that enable residents to get around without a car and encourage physical activity and connections among neighbors.
Links and more at original.
Pedaling Produce for Village Building Convergence, Portland
Jan Lundberg, Culture Change
This is the time for petroleum-free, sustainable transport. What better opportunity to do so when the motor-vehicle manufacturers are on the ropes, as they should be? We have to take care of local needs with local resources. Sorry you Big Money boys, move over for real community building — to me, this is the spirit of the Village Building Convergence, Portland, Oregon, in its ninth year, from June 5-14.
In February, on behalf of Culture Change, I offered the twin concepts of sail power and pedal power at the vision-planning meeting for this year’s Village Building Convergence (VBC). The enthusiasm in the room was palpable. One of the attendees who came forward to exchange contact info with me was Jeff Holiman. Over the months he and I visited farms and rivers with other enthusiasts interested in integrating the VBC with Sail Transport Network and Pedal Power Produce.
Taking heart from the excellent examples of the Puget Sound’s Sail Transport Company, and the many pedal-power activists in Oregon and beyond, we proceeded to chart what might be Portland’s future food supply/distribution system. We held many meetings to prepare ourselves and any volunteers to provide not just the VBC with some meals without polluting petroleum, but to establish long-term relationships with farms, gardeners and the whole bicycling sector.
Portland has potential for sustainability because of positive programs and attitudes that protect green space (e.g., the state’s Urban Growth Boundary law), a good climate for growing food, and its greatest resource: many wonderful people. So it rains like crazy and there are still all too many single-occupant motor vehicles on too much pavement. But the future is up to us, the people, and not Washington, DC or Salem the state capital. The challenge is that the future’s rushing right through the door — whether people are prepared or not.
One of the special features of Portland is the occurrence of over a dozen neighborhood intersections made into community centers. Designed to slow down cars and give residents a focal point with bulletin boards, free tea, book-exchange shelves, and benches made of cob, these charming spots are the work of a nonprofit group called City Repair. In an annual effort to bring in other groups’ efforts, such as natural building, permaculture and depaving, the VBC brings together not just Portlanders but activists, speakers and musicians from other states and nations.
(5 June 2009)