Home > Blog: Currents & Futures > “Ecotopia” visionary author Ernest Callenbach passes…

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Currents and Futures


Ernest “Chick” Callenbach, friend and fellow conspirator, died last month.  I echo my friend Tom Atlee‘s tribute to him. My friend Richard Register posted Callenbach’s last writing in its entirety [see below].  (I find it interesting that I met Richard, Tom and Chick at the same time!  Quite a confluence of energy!  I can’t remember who introduced me to whom…)I strongly urge you to read Chick’s last work, his very prophetic and posthumous final writing, “Epistle to the Ecotopians”. Knowing of his pending death, he penned a last testament…

To all brothers and sisters who hold the dream in their hearts of a future world in which humans and all other beings live in harmony and mutual support — a world of sustainability, stability, and confidence.  [Click link to read the entire “Epistle to the Ecotopians”.]


My first encounter with Chick was through his small but monumental book, “Ecotopia”.  I think it’s safe to say that “Ecotopia” was one of a small handful of truly ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting books for me.

 The first time Chick and I met face to face was a few months after the 1989 Bay Area earthquake.  It became the backdrop for what turned into a major life lesson Chick taught me.

I agreed to meet Chick for the first time in his house in Berkeley – he was still in recovery from a serious health malady.  As I walked in, I made some quip about being in earthquake-prone California (I was new to the West Coast at that time).

He looked at me and said, “Underneath my front porch are two backpacks, for me and my wife.  We’ve got sleeping bags, tents, flashlights, water, clothes and food for two to three weeks.”

I thought to myself, “Wow, this guy is prepared!”

Chick wasn’t finished.  He went on, “The backpacks are just to get us up into the Berkeley Hills.  We have buried tents, clothes, food, seeds, water filters, tools and other equipment.  It’s all buried near a year-round creek.  The land is level and can be cleared to build shelter and grow vegetables.”

I’m sure my mouth was hanging open. My second thought was not nearly as charitable as my first.  I thought to myself, “Wow, this guy is a NUT!”

He still wasn’t finished.  He walked close to me, looked me in the eye, and said quietly, “Sharif, I believe there’s going to be another earthquake.”

This lesson took place before I even sat down.

Every scientist that studies earthquakes says the same thing: that the San Andreas Fault has yet to run out of steam, that we have NOT YET seen what they refer to euphemistically as “The Big One”.

Everyone in the state of California knows this.  Yet, how many are actually PREPARED for it?

Chick’s stand-up lesson was powerful.  Our beliefs are evident from our actions.  Not what we SAY, but what we DO.  From our actions, most of us believe that we will live forever, that our negative actions have no consequences, that nothing can ever hurt us. This is the epitome of what I call EXCLUSIVITY – that we are removed from everything and everyone

Why aren’t we all as prepared as Callenbach was?  Yes, his preparations cost him and his wife weeks of time and thousands of dollars – probably less than a remodel on a house, less than a used car.  We spend thousands on remodels, vacations, or sports equipment… but spending the same amount to prepare for upcoming turbulence seems absurd.

How many of us say things like, “Oil is about to run out!”  How many of us ACT like it is?

This comes from addiction… Addiction to the Status Quo.  It makes people, even those who call themselves “revolutionaries”, shrink back from the magnitude of the tasks ahead of us.  How many “futurists” tout a world that looks just like this one… with the light bulbs changed?

And, its not just the turbulence of an earthquake.  ALL of our tectonic plates are in motion – political, economic, social, cultural, even spiritual.  Most of us are addicted to the status quo on all of it.  Most of us just turn up the volume on our 500 channels of cable TV.

Callenbach’s “Ecotopia” gave us permission to think the unthinkable: what happens WHEN the United States government goes away?  (It’s as inevitable as the San Andreas Fault… IT’S ONLY A QUESTION OF WHEN.)  What are the tools, techniques and processes that we must invent and rediscover, to create a positive future for all?

I was further inspired when, some years later, I discovered another slim but mighty book by him, “A Citizen Legislature” (with Michael Phillips).  Here’s an uber-radical thought: how about a DEMOCRACY that does away with ELECTIONS?  Where every citizen has the duty of a term of service in the legislature?  No more bought and paid for politicians, no need for electoral reform… because there are more elections!

One could say that Callenbach was indeed foolish.  Since the “Big One” didn’t happen during his lifetime, his work in preparing for it was “wasted”.

Wasted, compared to what?  Yes, we who envision the future could spend more time watching television, going to Las Vegas, following sports teams, polishing the car… But, I believe that the means and the ends are ONE.  The question is not whether we fully entertain ourselves with our various pastimes.  The question is whether or not I am living and acting true to my destiny and true to my soul.

Callenbach’s demand – that we envision that which we don’t want to think about – is the mark of a true revolutionary.  He truly inspired me.  I will miss him.





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