The Prequel to Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia does not offer a preview of a better world. It does, however, show people how to achieve it in the author’s 1981, Ecotopia Emerging.
Callenbach’s work is a work of fiction from long before many MU students were born. Yet, the look and feel is so relevant. America is in a crisis because of economics, environmental issues, and the large amount of oil we must import even from parts of the world unfriendly to America.
To show how individuals can make a difference, Callenbach discusses the rise of Ecotopia through a series of seemingly unrelated characters striving to change the world. The first is Lou Smith, who is a bright, young and ambitious Northern California teenager with one ambition, to use the sun to power the world, and enable everyone else to do so also. Through creating a simple solar cell that anyone can recreate themselves, she seeks to change the world. Throughout Ecotopia Emerging, her work is described in plausible, but never dumbed down, detail. She goes from numerous trial and errors on her cell designs to a finished product, where all phases of construction are described in detail on the Ecotopian two-way television service. It is not meant to be something only made in low numbers at high cost by large companies interested in profit.
Lou Smith is fed up with the ineptness of the federal government and their cow-towing to the wealthy elite of the nuclear, fossil fuel, automobile and big chemical companies. They feel these individuals just whine and scream that new environmental regulations are too painful for them. In order to create change, she no longer seeks to work with the established political parties. She and several others form a new party, which is called “The Survivalist Party.” They work to change politics at home on the state level first. Over the course of the story, “The Survivalist Party” gains traction. Finally, the corporate criminals are called out for their crimes .
Minor characters play roles as well. A farmer, who is largely indifferent to politics and global issues works on a still to create alcohol-based fuel to help others in his position become more self-sufficient. He shows other farmers, like himself, to do the same.
Not everyone seeks change through non-violent means. A small group of people afflicted with cancer show the corporations what happens when they will not listen to people. This group plants a small bomb in an oil refinery.
Around a third of the way through, the increasing impact of the Survivalist’s party becomes an object of inspiration to many throughout the rest of the United States. A little known novel is published using the title of this environmentalist utopia. It is written from the point of view of a cynical journalist on a state-sanctioned visit to Ecotopia. The book inspires ideas amongst the real people forming their vision of an environmentally conscious state. The characters in the book must change the things around them to find change in the world.