Archive for June 18th, 2012

Ecotopia emerging in the back yard

June 18, 2012

My new porch was a perfect Fathers Day gift for me, I’ve enjoyed a week’s worth of level syncopated gliding already and here I am again.

Then yesterday they topped it all off with a Brueggers breakfast, a Boscos group-on, lovely cards, a FaceTime call from Memphis, and permission to veto the multiplex in favor of more reading time in the aquatic hammock. Nice call from Sis too. Why can’t every day be like that? Oh yeah, suffering’s standard excuse: too many perfect days spoil us for proper appreciation. Well anyway, that was a very good day. Thanks, family.

So what did I do with my time in the aquatic hammock (i.e., the yellow float with the cupholders just the right size for those new Michelob Ultra cans) yesterday?

Finished the late Ernest Callenbach‘s 1981 fantasy Ecotopia Emerging, the prequel to his earlier Ecotopia and a perfect beach (or redneck pool) read. It’s an amusing page-turner with a dramatically fanciful story of secession in the Pacific Northwest that inspires as much as it entertains, and fuels summery visions of an alternative world not flummoxed by the petro-based codependencies of ours.

It’s satisfying in the same way that Edward Bellamy’s 19th century socialist-utopian classic Looking Backward was: for the briefest tantalizing moment it allows readers like me to believe we could get there from here, and may even  constructively motivate some of us to positive action. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” It’s a nice tune to hum on a summer’s day, at least.

How realistic is it to suppose that such a world might actually be achieved? Probably not very, in the foreseeable future. But it’s still a profoundly pleasing revery, and it’s important to visualize powerful practical changes that are well within our ability to achieve if we want it enough: dedicated bike-lanes, open-source solar & wind (etc.) technology to get people off the grid in large numbers, a less manically-driven consumer culture, and many other possibilities worth working for.

Sometimes literary merit is less important than catalysis: chemical transformation plays a crucial role in Callenbach’s story, as his 18-year old scientific whiz Lou Swift figures out how to make an efficient DIY solar cell. A metamorphosis of mind and perception is precisely what it’s going to take, to push us toward Ecotopia… or at least away from the eco-political dystopia this book was so prescient about in 1981.

Next on my summer reading list: Carl Safina’s The View from Lazy Point. (Perfect title, and a much better name for my back yard setup!) It should be good in the pool too, dreamy like Ecotopia but (as an award-winner already) almost entirely exempt from literary disdain. It too looks like a bet on the sun.

Then, it may be time to pick up a monkey wrench.


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