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Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

Fifteen years have passed since Ernest Callenbach wrote this lively examination of the world-we-could-have. Northern California, Oregon and Washington have seceded from the USA and become a country called Ecotopia. Their technology is environmentally benign; society and nature are in balance, to the betterment of both. The story makes Ecotopian life believable and so desirable - and to some, infuriating - that the very word ecotopia has become a part of our language. If anything, fifteen years have added to the seductive charm of the Ecotopian ideal. Only the sex seems dated today - there was no AIDS at the time it was written. Sigh. - JB

"Probably our greatest economies were obtained simply by stopping production of many processed and packaged foods. These had either been outlawed on health grounds or put on Bad Practice lists." This sounded like a loophole that might house a large and rather totalitarian rat. "What are these lists and how are they enforced?" I asked.

"Actually, they aren't enforced at all. They're a mechanism of moral persuasion, you might say. But they're purely informal. They're issued by study groups from consumer co-ops. Usually, when a product goes onto such a list, demand for it drops sharply. The company making it then ordinarily has to stop production, or finds it possible to sell only in specialized stores." "But surely these committees are not allowed to act simply on their own say-so, without scientific backing or government authorization?"

The Assistant Minister smiled rather wanly. "In Ecotopia," he said, "you will find many many things happening without government authorization."

After some drinks the conversation got livelier and more personal. Thought I'd do some probing. "Doesn't this stable-state business get awfully static? I'd think it would drive you crazy after a certain point!"

Bert looked at me with amusement, and batted the ball back. "Well, don't forget that we don't have to be stable. The system provides the stability, and we can be erratic within it."

Ecotopians treat as severe breaches of the peace many actions we consider white-collar crimes seldom deserving of police or court action. Deliberate pollution of water or air is punished by severe jail sentences. "Victimless" crimes such as prostitution, gambling, and drug use are no longer on the books, but embezzlement, fraud, collusion, and similar "gentleman's crimes" are dealt with just as severely as crimes like assault and robbery which are, by the way, rare in Ecotopia, perhaps because of the personal nature of their neighborhoods and the virtual impossibility of anonymity in them. (Strangers get a lot of attention in Ecotopia, but the motives for this may not be entirely friendliness.) Ecotopian courts mete out fines very seldom, it appears, preferring to rely on imprisonment, which is felt to affect convicted persons more equally. I hope to visit an Ecotopian prison soon; I am told that all prisons require the inmates to work, and rumors have circulated that some verge on slave-labor camps.

Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach 1975, 1990; 181 pp.;
$8.95 ($10.95 postpaid)from: Bantam Books, lnc.,414E. Golf Rd., Des Plaines,IL 60016 (800)223-6834   *WEA
A version of Ecotopia is
available on tape. Ecotopia:
An Audio Novel, $15.95 ($17.05 postpaid) from:
St. Martin's Press, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY
10010; (800) 221-7945


ISBN: 0553348477

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