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Ernest Callenbach, Author of ‘Ecotopia,’ Dies at 83

Dennis Hevesy, New York Times
Ernest Callenbach, the author of the 1975 novel “Ecotopia,” the tale of an awakening paradise in the Pacific Northwest that developed a cult following as a harbinger of the environmental movement, died on April 16 at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 83.

… Written in the throes of the Vietnam War, “Ecotopia” tells of a secessionist nation — carved from what was once Oregon, Washington and Northern California — that by 1999 has evolved toward a “stable state” of bioregionalism, in which each territory cultivates its distinct ecological character.

Mr. Callenbach, the founding editor of Film Quarterly, originally published the novel himself after 25 publishing houses had rejected the manuscript. It has now sold nearly one million copies and been translated into a dozen languages, most recently Chinese. Its readership has included hippies and New Agers, environmental activists and college and high school science students, as well as evangelical Christians increasingly concerned about the global environment. It was reprinted by Bantam Books in 1977, two years after Bantam rejected it, asserting, Mr. Callenbach recalled, that “the ecological fad is over.”
(27 April 2012)

Ernest Callenbach dies at 83; wrote environmental novel ‘Ecotopia’

Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times
Ernest “Chick” Callenbach, a film scholar and environmentalist who created a cult favorite in “Ecotopia,” a 1975 novel that predicted with uncanny accuracy a world where recycling is commonplace, food is locally grown and energy comes from the sun, died April 16 in Berkeley.

… “It came out at just the right time in terms of the environmental movement,” activist Ralph Nader said in an interview last week. “Environmentalists had been focusing on pollution inversions, rivers catching fire because of oil slicks, things like that. His book took it to a different level of possibility … and broadened the meaning of ecology.”

… Callenbach’s environmental consciousness was formed as a child growing up on a farm in Williamsport, Pa., where he was born on April 3, 1929. The rural lifestyle meant that “everything was recycled because no one was there to carry it away, and we practiced sustainable agriculture … because the country hadn’t gotten on a petrochemical kick yet,” Callenbach told the Chicago Tribune in 1990.

… In the early 1970s, the farmer’s son found his disgust with consumer society rising. He was particularly upset at the way the country disposed of sewage by burning or dumping it. He wanted to write a magazine article about the problem but abandoned the project after realizing that he could not offer a practical solution.

Instead, he began to imagine what would have to change for the country to embrace new approaches. He wound up writing “Ecotopia,” where citizens recycle almost everything, anything that can’t be reused is banned, walking or magnetic-levitation trains are the main modes of transportation, and the few cars allowed are electric.

… Callenbach wrote several other books, including “Living Poor With Style” and “Living Cheaply With Style.” He followed his own precepts: He bicycled to work for many years, drove a used car for 17 years, landscaped with native plants and grew his own vegetables. He bought his clothes from thrift shops until “used” became “vintage” and prices went up.
(25 May 2012)

Ernest Callenbach, ‘Ecotopia’ author, dies

Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle
When the narrator of Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel, “Ecotopia,” arrives in San Francisco, capital of a breakaway republic, the only sounds he hears on Market Street are the whirring of bicycles, the hum of a few electric cars and the rippling of a once-underground creek.

Commercial high-rises have been converted to apartments. Workers own the factories. Health care is locally administered and universal. The workweek is 20 hours. Marijuana is legal. Energy is solar, food is organic and locally grown, and every home and restaurant has recycling bins. The head of state is a woman.

It is “the way I would like to live if I could,” the author told NBC News in a 1989 interview. The book, he said, was “my bet with the future.”

… the book inspired advocates of a small-is-beautiful philosophy and low-impact lifestyle, became required reading in many college courses, and was a founding document of the Green Party in Germany and elsewhere.

The novel is set in a nation that consists of Oregon, Washington and Northern California. Mr. Callenbach’s 1981 “prequel,” “Ecotopia Emerging,” explains that California split in two over north-south water wars just before the green-oriented, female-led Survivalist Party spearheaded a movement to secede from a United States beset by foreign wars and financial catastrophe.

The narrator, journalist William Weston, is the first U.S. citizen to visit Ecotopia in 20 years. Leery at first, he is won over by the good sense and friendliness of the populace, to say nothing of the sexual assertiveness of women in a land of gender equality, mandatory sex education and free access to abortion.
(30 April 2012)

Articles at EB by and about Ernest Callenbach

Sustainable shrinkage: envisioning a smaller, stronger economy

Ecotopia 2005 (interview)

A Virtual Ecotopia by Kelpie Wilson