Ecological concerns and their collective realisation in Ernest Callenbach´s "Ecotopia"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

14 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of contents

1. Ecotopia´s food circle

2. Ecotopian food production and processing

3. Ecotopian food production and processing

4. Car-less living, television and wares in Ecotopia

5. On Ecotopia´s economy

6. Lumber and Ecotopia´s woods

7. Plastics in Ecotopia

8. Energy from sun and sea

9. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Ernest Callenbach´s Ecotopia consists of the reports and diary entries of William Weston, a reporter who is actually the first person to enter the newly modelled country, consisting of Washington, Oregon and Northern California, which broke from the USA in 1980. Seen from 1974, the story is set 25 years in the future in the year of 1999. Ecotopian citizens are described as creative, free-thinking, liberal and energetic people, who place value on work in team configurations and social responsibility. William Weston provides the reader with detailed insights into the Ecotopian lifestyle, politics, sexual freedom, education, and gender relations. However, the main focus of the book is on ecological aspects. This essay is concerned with the ecological concerns and their collective realization in Ecotopia, whereas emphasis will be put on Ecotopia´s food circle, food production and processing, car-less living, television and wares, Ecotopian economy, their woods, plastics, and their way of generating energy from sun and sea.

2. Ecotopia´s food circle

In Ecotopia´s food circle, sewage, garbage and other food wastes are transformed into organic fertilizer and used on the land where they enter the food production cycle. In this respect, every Ecotopian citizen is obliged to compulsively sort out all the garbage into recyclable and compostable categories, which naturally goes together with a lot of personal effort.

Weston points out the fact that sewage practices of earlier days would be considered criminal if they were still carried out, whereas the minister notes that something where people dump garbage in a toxic condition into natural waterways could only be called a “disposal system” that does not only harm nature and public health, but has an unnatural and wasteful objective itself.

Ecotopia is characterized by a national system of natural fertilizer production and sludge drying. After seven years Ecotopians were able to dispense with chemical fertilizers entirely, which they managed by means of garbage composting, sewage recycling, the usage of animal manure, and the reliance on nitrogen-fixing crops and crop rotation (cf. Callenbach 18, 19).

When Weston gets sceptical and suspicious about all those methods and measures and wants to know about the economic drawbacks of the Ecotopian system, he gets informed about the fact that when all the costs are added the Ecotopian system is actually much cheaper than the one in the United States. If Ecotopians had continued their free disposal of garbage and wastes in rivers and lakes, soon somebody would have had to bear and calculate the prices of the resulting dead waterways.

3. Ecotopian food production and processing

One of Ecotopia´s greatest economies was to stop the production of many processed and packaged foods. Considering the great amount of synthetic meat and other protein foods or pre-cooked meals the Ecotopians´ pride with regards to this implementation seems reasonable to Weston. He is informed about the fact those kind of foods had either been outlawed on health grounds or put on a Bad Practice list (cf. Callenbach 20). California, Oregon and Washington enjoy an enormous production of grain and fruit, which is actually five times the amount that is needed by their own population. With ending their export of food to the United States the problem that arose was how to reduce the agricultural export in Ecotopia in general. At the same time Ecotopians tried to end extractive and polluting measure in the farming system. Along with their simplification of the food processing they successfully implemented a lot of economies in food distribution. In contrast to other countries, Ecotopian food supplies are uncontaminated with insecticides and herbicides because of the cultivation system for weeds and the biological controls for insects that is used. With more 99 % of their wastes being recycled, Ecotopia has reached an almost totally stable state system, which even Weston finds himself more and more impressed with throughout his time in Ecotopia (cf. Callenbach, 21, 22).

4. Car-less living, television and wares in Ecotopia

When Weston gets the chance to visit one of the minicities that were built in the context of the more extrme urban vision of the decentralized Ecotopian society in San Francisco, he gets on the interurban train many Ecotopians use and is dropped of in the basement of a large complex of buildings. Weston gets familiar with the “carfree zones” in which individually owned vehicles were prohibited soon after Ecotopia got independent. Those zones at first just covered the downtown areas where congestion and pollution was more severe, but later on also expanded to the outskirts and covered all densely settled areas of the city (cf. Callenbach 26).

Weston is amazed by the fact that almost everything is built out of wood in Ecotopia. Wood really seems to have become the predominant building material. The streets are characterized by many bicycles and pedestrians. Furthermore, Weston notices that heavy goods are carried in containers which are much smaller than usual cargo containers and actually proportioned to fit into Ecotopian freight cars and onto their electric trucks. There is also a small harbour that has been dredged for small craft, which opens onto the ship channel through which a freighter has the possibility to easily move up to the factory dock.

Despite the general technological austerity Ecotopians employ video device even more extensively than people in the US. Television may be an important reason for Ecotopian´s odd attitudes toward material goods. Many products are regarded as ecologically offensive towards the environment and are therefore just not used. Examples for that are hair curlers, electric can openers, frying pans, etc..As a consequence of not selling things things like that many basic necessities are entirely standardized. Bath towels for instance can only be purchased in one colour, namely white. However, many Ecotopians dye their own towels and cloths in various colours. Weston shares his thoughts with regards to all these items and measure with the reader:

Objects that are available in stores seem rather old-fashioned. I have seen few Ecotopian-made appliances that would not look pretty primitive on American TV. One excuse I´ve heard is that they are designed for easy repair by users. At any rate they lack the streamlining w´re used to- parts stick out at odd angles, bolts and other fasteners are plainly visible, and sometimes parts are even made of wood (Callenbach 44).


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Ecological concerns and their collective realisation in Ernest Callenbach´s "Ecotopia"
University of Vienna
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ecological, ernest, callenbach´s, ecotopia
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Bachelor Katharina Eder (Author), 2010, Ecological concerns and their collective realisation in Ernest Callenbach´s "Ecotopia", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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