‘Epistle to the Ecotopians’


Ernest Callenbach(1929~2012)/ writer, film critic, environmentalist

<Ecotopia> (1975) – Utopian novel by Ernest Callenbach

Twenty years have passed since Northern California, Oregan, and Washington secedes from the United States to create a new nation, Ecotopia. Rumors abound of barbaric war games, tree worship, revolutionary politics, sexual extravagance. Now, this mysterious country admits its first American visitor: investigative  reporter Will Weston, whose dispatches alternate between shock and admiration. But Ecotopia gradually unravels everything Weston knows about government and human nature itself, forcing him to choose between two competing view of civilization.

‘Epistle to the Ecotopians'(2012) – by Ernest Callenbach

(Since was published in 1975, it has inspired readers throught the world with its vision of an ecologically and socially sustainable future. In the 40th anniversary edition, Ernest Callenbach wrote his last essay ‘Epistle(letter) to the Ecotopians’ just before his death. Below is some excerpt.)

To all brothers and sisters who hold the dream in their hearts of a future world in which humans and all other beings live in harmony and mutual support-a world of sustainability, stability, and confidence. A world something like the one I described, so long ago, in and .

As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. How will those who survive manage it? What can we teach our friends, our children, our communities? I contemplate these questions in the full consciousness of my own morality. Let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.

HOPE. Children exude hope, even under the most terrible conditions, and that must inspire us as our conditions get worse. Hopeful patients recover better. Hopeful test candidates score better.Hopeful parents produce secure and resilient children. We cannot know what threats we will face. But ingenuity against adversity is one of our species’ built-in resources.

MUTUAL SUPPORT. The people who do best at basic survival tasks are cooperative, good at teamwork, often altruistic, mindful of the common good. In drastic emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes, people surprises us by their sacrifices-of food, of shelter, even sometimes life itself. Those who survive social or economic collapse, or wars, or pandemics, or starvation, will be those who manage scarce resources fairly. We need to help each other, and our children learn to be cooperative rather than competitive.

PRACTICAL SKILLS. When I was a boy in the country, all of us knew how to build a tree house, or construct a small hut, or raise chickens, or grow beans, or screw pipes together to deliver water. We all need to learn how we would keep the rudiments of life going if there are no paid specialists around, or means to pay them. Take care of each other is one practical step at a time, most of them requiring help from at least one other person; survival is a team sport.

ORGANIZE. Our shared and usually unspoken assumptions is hyper-individualistic. We like to imagine that heroes are solitary, have superpowers, and glory in violence. We have an uneasy and doubting attitude about government, as if we all reserve the right to be outlaws. But of course human society, like ecological webs, is a complex dance of mutual support and restraint. We will have to know how to organize groups, how to compromise with other groups, how to argue in public for our positions. Thinking together is enormously creative; it has huge survival value.

LEARN TO LIVE WITH CONTRADICTIONS. While the dark times may continue for generations, in time new growth and regeneration will begin. In the biological process called, “succession” a desolate, disturbed area is gradually, by a predictable sequence of returning plants, restored to ecological continuity and durability. When old institutions and habits break down or consume themselves, new experimental shoots begin to appear, and people explore and test and share new and better ways to survive together.

is a novel, and secession is its dominant metaphor; how would a relatively rational part of the country save itself ecologically if it was on its own? The ‘ecology in one country’ argument was an echo of an actual early Soviet argument as to whether ‘socialism in one country’ was possible. In both cases, it now seems to me, the answer must be no. We are fatally interconnected, in climate change, ocean impoverishment, agricultural soil loss. etc., etc., etc. So I look to a long-term process of ‘succession’, as the biological concept has it, where ‘disturbances’ kill off an ecosystem. but little by little new plants colonize the devastated area, prepare the soil for larger and more complex plants, and finally the process achieves a flourishing, resilient, complex state-not necessarily what was there before, but durable and richly productive. In a similar way, experiments under way now, all over the world, are exploring how sustainability can in fact be achieved locally. Technically, socially, economically-since it is quite true that everything is connected to everything else, and you can never just do one thing by itself.

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