photo by Justin Pickard (Flickr CC)

Ernest Callenbach, author of the environmental landmark novel Ecotopia, died of cancer on April 16th in Berkley, California, at the age of 83 .

Ecotopia was first self-published in 1975 and is credited as being a major influence on the environmental movement. One of the first novels in the ‘environmental utopia’ genre, Ecotopia blended science fiction, utopian fiction and contemporary scientific research, as well experiments in alternative living, which were actually being practiced at the time.

The novel deals with the premise that Oregon, Washington State and Northern California break off from the rest of the US and form an independent nation based on environmentally sustainable practices including recycling, solar energy and a ban on the internal combustion engine in favor of transportation by walking, cycling, electric cars and maglev trains.

Callenbach’s wife, Christine Leefeldt, is quoted by the Associated Press:

The ideas that came out of `Ecotopia’ were so diverse and picked up by so many people that he was always astonished. The thing that made him very, very proud was that it inspired several generations of writers, thinkers, schoolchildren, teachers and environmental groups.

Ecotopia and many of the ideas Callenbach distilled in the novel seem to have crept into mainstream society, whether we’ve read the book or not. I haven’t read it, myself, but now I want to.

According to his wife, the author was a genuine environmentalist and not just a writer.

From the New York Times:

He practiced what he preached, his wife said. He grew organic fruits and vegetables in his backyard, which he had landscaped with drought-tolerant plants to conserve water, and he installed a device called a Kill-a-Watt in his home to monitor power usage.

Ernest Callenbach: a true Northern California Green till the end.