From Ecotopia to Solartopia

Posted by Neville Williams

Aug 28, 2009 9:46:00 AM

Utopias have always had a place in the American vision, from William Penn's "Sylvania," to Robert Owen's New Harmony, to the Oneida and Shaker communities and the Amana Colonies, right up to The Farm, in Tennessee founded in 1971 by back-to-the land hippies.

In 1975, I bought a copy of "New World Utopias", a photographic chronicle of America's historical utopian societies. That launched an interest in the utopian ideal, so I was ripe for another book published that year, Ernest Callenabach's "Ecotopia," which struggled as a self-published underground tome until Bantam Books picked it up and did a first printing of 100,000 copies. It became an environmental classic, about an almost-too perfect future of a West Coast America that secedes from the U.S. to form a more perfect union of green living, peace loving, dope smoking, socialist citizens living 25 years in the future, in 1999! Amazingly, he even predicted a role for solar, envisioning a 30-square mile "bank of massive photo-cells, similar to those used on satellites but enormous in size."

Thirty four years after Ecotopia was published, we are at long last getting closer to being clean and green. The Ecotopian vision has been updated in a 2007 book called "Solartopia," which writer Harvey Wasserman calls an "achievable vision of a sustainable future". This is a Utopian vision I can believe in, one that will actually manifest itself - and sooner than most visionaries have dreamed.

Wasserman's short, inspiring novel travels through an entirely "solar" powered world in the year 2030, where there is no pollution because "King C.O.N.G." – coal, oil, nuclear, gas – have been defeated. All power comes from rooftop as well as utility-scale photovoltaics, wind farms, wave/tide energy, bio fuels, algae, and geothermal sources, all coupled with energy efficiency. Global warming has been tamed. There are no more wars for oil. Renewable energy drives booming economies.

The story teller in Solartopia, flying over the landscape in a hydrogen-powered airship, observes "all the technology that was ever needed in a post-pollution world was available in 2007." The narrator recounts our intervening hell-to-pay history of wars, climate disasters, and nuclear melt-downs that occurred prior to a global change in consciousness when humanity was forced to choose life over death, riches over poverty, peace over war. In his green flying machine he visits the German "Green Giant," the first "Solartopian super power" and says "the 'impossible vision' of 'those solar fools' is now the ultimate Solartopian cash cow."

It's a whole new world in 2030. "We treasure these gentle emerald economies," the protagonist reflects. "They brought our battered Mother Earth back from the brink of economic ruin and ecological Apocalypse, into a golden age of peerless prosperity and natural balance."

This is a book about hope that is grounded in a technological reality, and a belief that a new solar economy can evolve quickly like the powerhouse economies that emerged from the devastation of WWII. I'm not a great optimist myself, so I was pleased to see that before he died the unreconstructed pessimist Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "Solartopia has made me what I previously thought impossible, optimistic..." Me too.

You can't say much more about a book than that. Read it, be happy, grow rich. Go solar!

Video - Ecotopia and Solartopia authors discuss their books.

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