Fans Mourn the Passing of Ernest Callenbach

'Ecotopia' introduced environmentally sound practices in utopian novel.

Fans of Ernest Callenbach, the author of the 1975 novel “Ecotopia,” and legions of environmentalists influenced by it are mourning his passing.

Callenbach died of cancer at the Berkeley home he shared with his wife, Christine Leefeldt, April 16. He was 83.

The seminal novel about an ecologically sound Pacific Northwest utopia not only attracted a cult following but heralded the environmental movement.

Ecotopia’s characters recycled, farmed organically, got energy from the sun and either biked or rode high-speed trains – ideas that may not have seemed plausible on a wide scale at the time but have since taken root in planning and politics.

“Callenbach launched much of our thinking about these things,” Scott Slovic, a professor of environmental literature at the University of Nevada, told The New York Times in 2008.

He studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and edited Film Quarterly, which he founded, for 33 years.

And at home, he walked the talk, said his wife. "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," The Times reported.

The book has sold nearly 1 million copies since its first printing. It has been translated into a dozen languages and is required reading in many college classes.

"It came out at just the right time in terms of the environmental movement," activist Ralph Nader told the Los Angeles Times last week. "Environmentalists had been focusing on pollution inversions, rivers catching fire because of oil slicks, things like that. His book took it to a different level of possibility … and broadened the meaning of ecology."


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