Progressive Indictment | My Conversation With Ernest (Ecotopia) Callenbach
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August 21, 2006, 05:00 AM
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Ernest Callenbach is one of the most influential authors in the area of social activism and ecology in the last several decades. His 1974 classic Ecotopia, a futuristic fantasy about an environmentally-sound breakaway country based in the Pacific Northwest, enormously influenced a generation of activists.

A little-noticed fact: In Ecotopia, there was a significant period of closed borders (or more precisely, one way—out) during the transition to a "sustainable economy."

Callenbach has given me permission to post my recent correspondence with him. I wrote:

"I read Ecotopia and several of your other works years ago, and met you during a talk you gave in San Francisco in the 1980s. What are your current thoughts on the recent immigration debate? My own recent writings are found here and here.

"I remember Ecotopia as having a rather different attitude on immigration than anything we`ve seen in recent years.

"I think I can expose your viewpoint to readers for whom it will be new–and encourage communication across ideological lines if you were to make some comments for VDARE.COM readers."

Callenbach replied:

"I`m not writing much anymore, and don`t have any brilliant thoughts to contribute on the immigration question in particular. The Ecotopian position of totally closed borders—they only let people LEAVE—now seems (for any part of the world) what Alberto Gonzales would probably consider `quaint`.

"But I agree with what I take to be your position about the class role of high-immigration proponents, though I would go even farther and say that it must be understood as part of a larger long-term looter program, a.k.a. the hollowing out of the American empire. Marx famously and correctly said, `Capital has no country,` but it took until recently for us to see how globalization would in fact evolve to prove him right. . . .

"My own perspective being primarily ecological, I must say that the greatest problem with population is internal overpopulation in this sense: what the ecological world is basically suffering from is too many rich consuming people–in Japan, North America, and Europe. [Readers might investigate the ` ecological footprint` concept—if you put that into Google you will come up with some very interesting stuff—though the elites in Asia and Latin America are beginning to have important impacts too, of course.]

"But politicians everywhere are overwhelmingly economisticly-minded, so probably the long-term dim prospects of industrial consumer capitalism will only beat their way into the discourse when oil prices get to maybe $10 a gallon and it becomes clear that the suburban auto-centered American ideal is dying. It won`t matter much then whose hands are on the steering wheels."

I asked Callenbach:

"What kinds of conditions do you think Ecotopians might have made before allowing limited immigration or tourism into their country? Might they for example have set a quota allowing as many entrants from a country as Ecotopians emigrated to that country?"

To this, Callenbach replied:

"The Ecotopians seek a slowly diminishing population; they find economies in shrinking scale, as well as diminished ecological impacts."

I questioned him further:

"When you say `suburban auto-centered American ideal is dying,` what sort of reactions do you anticipate to this in the near future? Do you think the kind of breakup of the US you described in Ecotopia is becoming more likely?"

Callenbach in effect agreed. He replied:

"I have been forced to admit that humans are more like mules than we like to admit: we only pay attention when hit by a 2×4, and post-peak oil is altogether likely to be the 2×4.

"Gradually, local solutions will come to seem more attractive than global or even national ones. The logic behind Joel Garreau`s wonderful ` Nine Nations of North America` will get steadily stronger."

As a progressive, I argue there is a constituency on the left for immigration reform. I read Callenbach`s response to confirm this, if reluctantly—and also to confirm a progressive constituency for, if necessary, radical reorganization of America.

Randall Burns [email him] holds a degree in Economics from the University of Chicago.  He works in the information technology sector and is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University.  Burns has been active in furthering the introduction of immigration, trade, and tax realities into the progressive agenda. In 2004, he helped create the Kucinich campaign`s position paper on H-1b/L-1 visas.