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What is an Ecolog?

Old friends will note that the Ecolog resembles the original Whole Earth Catalogs from twenty years ago. It's equally big and floppy, with similar spirit, intent, and utility. What's different is the focus - in this case on environmental and ecological matters. But attempting to include everything in one huge paper Catalog is no longer practical (although we've made a start at doing that electronically with the 1988 Electronic Whole Earth Catalog. See p. 127). There were hard choices to be made; it's literally the nature of things that nearly everything is in some way involved with the environment.

This Ecolog is a metaphorical snapshot of some of the interesting action in applied ecology. Like any snapshot, it can't show more than a freeze-frame of a scene that is actually seething. As is our custom, we review what's deemed important and interesting by our staff and our friendly experts, many of whom are readers of our quarterly magazine. Whole Earth Review (see p. 127). We tend to show typical - but not all - examples of a breed. If your wonderful enterprise or one you love isn't here, it's probably because we aren't covering that subject this time, we can't show 'em all, we thought everybody already knew, or - horrors - we missed it (let us know!).

Following our Whole Earth tradition, the Ecolog does not attend to what's wrong in the world - a host of other publications (and your intuition) do that very well. Nor do we give bad reviews to things we don't like. Negative reviews tend to focus on how smart the reviewer is, and just bring further publicity to things best left to decompose quietly. Positive reviews introduce readers to the good stuff, which is what we're all here for. Items are selected for review because they're exemplary, basic, unique, unproven-but-worth-watching, or combinations thereof. We are not interested in political correctness of any sort.

You may have noticed that bookstores are stacked high with Earth-Saving fare these days. We looked at 'em all (up until our July deadline, that is), then made sure ours isn't just another verse of 99 (Recyclable) Bottles Of Beer On The Wall. We particularly celebrate those individuals and groups undertaking work that is essential, but initially unlikely to attract the sponsorship of business, government, and universities. With few exceptions, that's where the real pioneering is taking place. As usual, we gleefully report successful enterprises, things that work, and even some brave tries.

We note with satisfaction (and an occasional wry cackle), that many causes we've championed in past Whole Earth Catalogs are now mainstream or getting close to it. When we started twenty-one years ago, phenomena such as photovoltaics, commercial organic food raising, ecological restoration, and grade school ecology classes were rare. Replacing confrontation with cooperation was considered a sellout to the blackhats. Now it's widely realized that the "enemy" is hard to define without self-incrimination - the contents of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker was enroute to our gas tanks. In 1970, it was almost unthinkable that a private, environmentally oriented organization like RMI (p. 57) would soon be advising multinational corporations, the United States Government, and the Kremlin (simultaneously!) on energy and resource conservation. And who would have expected to see the day when realty interests and the Chamber of Commerce helped pass environmental laws such as Proposition 70 (p. 104)? This is no time for smuggery, though. As one of our friends - it may have been Steve Baer (Zomeworks p. 53) - once said, "If you're not in the Sears catalog, you're probably irrelevant." Metaphor again, but close enough.

The question is whether our best efforts at what is still regrettably dubbed environmentalism will "make it to Sears" or otherwise sufficiently affect mainstream worldwide thought in time. Innovation isn't enough; there's inertia to be overcome. You'd think that the undisputed success of the energy-saving, natural-everything Village Homes neighborhood (p. 74) would have cloned imitators by now, but it hasn't.

Maybe that's because it was hard to accomplish, like all complex "solutions." Simple solutions always leave out something important; slogans like "Sustainable Development" are dangerous. Any solutions are going to be a bit messy and incremental. Uncounted ignorant personal acts brought us to the present situation; countless personal actions of a well-informed world citizenry are the only way out. It takes high spirits to do that in the face of accelerating degradation and an apparently increasing kakistocracy (government by a society's worst elements). The Ecolog shows some spirited folks at work. It's high time for more to join the fray. There's plenty to do. Professional recycler Linda Christopher put it neatly to local university students: "The goal isn't just a successful program, we want it to be the way people normally do things around here!"