This book has flaws and faults, sure, and it’s definitely a produce of the era it was written, but the message at the heart of it is still incredibly relevant.
Let’s talk about the two most obvious issues first:
1) The prose is certainly not narrative-friendly. I could probably only name a few of the many people mentioned and give defining details about even less. The writing is dense and information-packed; it talks about science and politics and situations, and the people are simply another tool with which to convey those subjects.
2) The entire premise and resolve are idealistic and unrealistic in present times. It’s obvious to a modern reader why things would never happen the way they do in the book, but when the book was written we hadn’t yet had quite so many real-life examples of just how far the government and armed forces, much less the large corporations, are willing to go to maintain control of a domestic situation.
The first issue is one that I run into to varying degrees with certain types of books from that era. It’s a problem for some readers, but for others it’s not as much of an issue. It’s a matter of personal taste, really. I don’t mind so much; sometimes I’m in the mood for it, and sometimes I’m not and take a break from it. It’s easy to do with a book like this, especially with Ecotopia Emerging, where the author is exploring how something like Ecotopia might happen rather than a story about individual people. There are individual peoples’ stories contained within, but the book itself is a story about Ecotopia’s birth as a whole, and the people are simply a narrative device to that end.
The second issue isn’t really an issue if one simply remembers when the book was written and thinks of it in terms of historical perspective and an exploration of optimism and ideology.
Now on to the heart of the book:
The country hasn’t exactly gone the route predicted as our future in Ecotopia Emerging, but in some ways it feels like we’ve just managed to get there by a more insidious and less visible route. The problems the book talks about are still problems; we’re still not a sustainable, healthy, environmentally responsible, harmful-chemical-free nation. Even when I was a little kid, I felt pretty bleak thinking about the long-term future, because it seemed like everything was heading in a pretty bad direction. I still wish we could take ideas presented in books like this and turn some of them into reality (and some of the other ideas we’ve already discovered/invented new and better options that sadly aren’t always being used yet, either).
I enjoy reading books like this because they remind me that I’m not alone in thinking there’s a better way to run things, and that lots of people have had lots of good ideas and explored them in fiction. Remembering that can help me hope that someday they won’t just be fiction anymore, even if it hasn’t happened yet.
Ecotopia Emerging isn’t ground-breaking or riveting. It’s not an impressive or defining work of fiction. It’s not even an example of particularly good writing. But none of that is terribly important compared to the ideas and hope it contains. Yes, it can come off as preachy or agenda-pushing, but it’s an agenda that, with translation into current times, would actually make the world pretty damn awesome, so I don’t exactly have a problem with that. If you can get past the issues of the writing and the society in which it was written, at the center of it is a dream that I hope we can all share some day, where true sustainability and a healthy environment are more important than business and wealth for the few at the expense of the many and of the future of everyone.