July 2009

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #42 California Conservation Corps

Posted by on 21 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

July 21, 2009

This program highlights the California Conservation Corps. Our guests are Jimmy Camp, Director of Communications for the state organization and Keith Welch, the local Chico director of the CCC projects in our region.

Background on Conservation Corps

Under the legislation signed by President Obama in April of this year, the United States government’s AmeriCorps service program will triple in size during the next eight years. About 75,000 AmeriCorps volunteers work on community projects, including education, environmental cleanup and assisting the poor. At the signing of the $5.7 billion bill, the President said, “What this legislation does, then, is to help harness this patriotism and connect deeds to needs. It creates opportunities to serve for students, seniors and everyone in between,” he said.

Reprinted in “AARP Bulletin Today” is a July 2, 2008, Chicago Tribune article by John McCormick about the current desire in the Obama administration, which has bipartisan support, to initiate national service and volunteerism sponsored by the government.

“From Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, presidents and those who aspire to be president have long put forth calls for greater public service. Some found success, while others fell short of their lofty rhetoric.

Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps and Kennedy created the Peace Corps with strong support and participation, while Clinton’s AmeriCorps has never fully realized its full potential, hampered by ongoing funding struggles since its 1994 inception.

Still, as Sen. Barack Obama called for greater public service Wednesday, some experts predict the potential now exists for programs seeking an expansion of volunteerism to succeed, despite a slumping economy and the nation being at war.

Stephen Goldsmith, a former Indianapolis mayor who is now chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service said  surveys show today’s youth, a group sometimes called the “9/11 generation,” is deeply attracted to service and has maintained that interest, even as it has fallen off for other age groups following the attacks in 2001.[…]

Obama outlined several proposals to boost service, both at home and abroad, during a speech in Colorado Springs.

“Loving your country shouldn’t just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July,” he said. “Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, our country will be stronger.””

Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps has provided the model of subsequent efforts to build a national service program. From Wikipedia comes this brief history of the Civilian Conservation Corps:


“The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program for unemployed men, focused on natural resource conservation from 1933 to 1942. As part of the New Deal legislation proposed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), the CCC was designed to aid relief of high unemployment stemming from the Great Depression while carrying out a broad natural resource conservation program on national, state and municipal lands. […]The CCC became one of the most popular New Deal programs among the general public and operated in every U.S. state and the territories of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. […]General Douglas MacArthur had General George C. Marshall organize the Corps.

Members lived in camps, wore uniforms, and lived under quasi-military discipline. At the time of entry, 70% of enrollees were malnourished and poorly clothed. Very few had more than a year of high school education; few had work experience beyond occasional odd jobs. The peace was maintained by the threat of “dishonorable discharge.” There were no reported revolts or strikes. “This is a training station we’re going to leave morally and physically fit to lick ‘Old Man Depression,'” boasted the newsletter of a North Carolina camp.  [. . . .]

Initially, the CCC was limited to young men age 18 to 25 whose fathers were on relief. Average enrollees were ages 18-19. Two exceptions to the age limits were veterans and Indians, who had a special CCC program and their own camps. In 1937, Congress changed the age limits to 17 to 28 years old and dropped the requirement that enrollees be on relief.”

From NW Travel Magazine Online comes this description of some of the accomplishments of the ‘30s and ‘40s CCC:


The CCC worked on improving millions of acres of federal and state lands, as well as parks. New roads were built, telephone lines strung, and trees planted.

CCC projects included:

# more than 3,470 fire towers erected;

# 97,000 miles of fire roads built;

# 4,235,000 man-days devoted to fighting fires;

# more than 3 billion trees planted;

# 7,153,000 man days expended on protecting the natural habitats of wildlife; 83 camps in 15 Western states assigned 45 projects of that nature;

# 46 camps assigned to work under the direction of the U.S. Bureau of Agriculture Engineering;

# more than 84,400,000 acres of good agricultural land receive manmade drainage systems; Indian enrollees do much of that work;

# 1,240,000 man-days of emergency work completed during floods of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys;

# disease and insect control;

# forest improvement — timber stand inventories, surveying, and reforestation;

# forest recreation development — campgrounds built, complete with picnic shelters, swimming pools, fireplaces, and restrooms.

In addition, 500 camps were under the control of the Soil Conservation Service. The primary work of those camps was erosion control. The CCC also made outstanding contributions to the development of recreational facilities in national, state, county, and metropolitan parks.

Today, there are a number of Conservation Corps operating throughout the United States., including

  • The Montana Conservation Corps, established in 1991, began as a summer program serving disadvantaged youth[…].
  • The Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) […]a subagency of the Washington State Department of Ecology. It employs men and women 18 to 25 years old in an outreach program to protect and enhance Washington’s natural resources.
  • The Minnesota Conservation Corps [providing] environmental stewardship and service-learning opportunities to youth and young adults while accomplishing conservation, natural resource management projects and emergency response work through its Young Adult Program and the Summer Youth Program
  • The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps […] that hires Corps Members, aged 16-24, to work on high-priority conservation projects in Vermont. VYCC Crews work at VT State Parks, U.S. Forest Service Campgrounds, in local communities, and throughout the state’s backcountry.
  • The Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) […] with locations in Durango and Alamosa, Colorado, and Tucson, Arizona and hires young adults ages 14 to 25 and organizes them into crews focused on completing conservation projects on public lands.
  • And the California Conservation Corps, which is the largest, oldest and longest-running youth conservation organization in the world

Our Questions for Jimmy Camp, Communications Director of the California Conservation Corps.

1. Please tell us about the the California Conservation Corps. What are its goals? When and how did it begin? How large is it? Who is involved?

2. What do you see as the advantages of the CCC to the young people who participate? What are the advantages to the community?

3. What kinds of projects does the CCC engage in? What projects have especially impressed you or been especially interesting?

4. How is the California budget crisis affecting the California Conservation Corps? What are some of your biggest concerns?

5. How can community organizations and young people get involved in CCC activities? And how can the interested citizen learn more about Corps activities?

Our Questions for Keith Welch, Director of the Chico-Area CCC.

1. How long has CCC been operating in Chico?

2. How many people are involved?

3. What sorts of projects has CCC taken on in Chico? How are those projects selected?

4. What are the current projects?

5. What do you consider some of the more successful or interesting projects the local CCC has undertaken?

6. Describe a typical day or week for a CCC participant.

7. What are the benefits of working with CCC?

Do-It-Yourself Conservation Activism

If you go onto the web to search for volunteer opportunities you will be rewarded with hundreds, if not thousands, of options. One of the best sites for international service opportunities is Go Global! The International Careers Website coordinated by Global Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Many of the opportunities for service, they warn, “require a rather hefty fee.”


Although a few of the sites they include are directed toward students, there are many opportunities for language learning and teaching, cross cultural understanding, humanitarian service, and environmental aid. Some of the latter include

  • Earthwatch  (www.earthwatch.org), which promotes sustainable conservation of national resources and cultural heritage;
  • Ecovolunteer (www.ecovolunteer.org), which combines tourism and efforts to help protect nature and its inhabitants by working with local organizations.
  • Rainforest Action Network  (www.ran.org), which involves activists in working locally to solve international problems.

A site called Volunteer Match  (www.volunteermatch.org) offers thousands of volunteer opportunities online.

When we entered our zipcode—95965—and our interest—the environment—weI received several suggestions for volunteer work. A project for youth called the Nicodemus Wilderness Project (http://www.wildernessproject.org/volunteer_apprentice_ecologist)encourages youngsters to become Apprentice Ecologists.

Here’s what they do:

The goals of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiativeâ„¢ (officially recognized by the U.S. EPA) are to elevate young people into leadership roles by engaging them in environmental stewardship projects, empower youth to rebuild the environmental and social well-being of our communities, and improve local living conditions for both citizens and wildlife. Trash spoils nature’s beauty, harms and kills wildlife, and provides habitat for disease-carrying pests. We need your help to Clean-It-Up!

Here’s how to become an official Apprentice Ecologist:

1. Plan and take a trip (with help from your family, friends, or teachers*) to a mountain, river, shoreline, beach, park, or wilderness area.

2. Pick up trash and take a few high-resolution digital photos** of your environmental project in action.

3. Register and upload your essay and best project photo to the Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists.

After completing steps 1-3, we will publish your essay in the Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists and provide links to download/print an official Certificate of Achievement and Apprentice Ecologist heat transfer (for T-shirt). A large NWP canvas tote bag (made in the USA with 100% certified organic cotton) will be awarded to the authors of the 10 best essays on an annual basis. A $500 scholarship will be awarded annually to the author of the top Apprentice Ecologist essay.

Other suggestions from Volunteer Match include Volunteer Thursdays in Bidwell Park, as well as a couple of projects from Florida and Pennsylvania that can be conducted locally—Watch the Wild (http://www.natureabounds.org/watchthewild/index.htm) and Planting Peace (http://www.plantingpeace.org/volunteer.php). You can find links to these programs on our website ecotopiakzfr.net.

Playlist for Ecotopia #42    California Conservation Corps

1. You’re My Hero       3:32   lunatic crash  ‘born to be free’+the new ep for free

2. Help!       2:19   Fab Again  A Tribute to the Beatles (Volume I)

3. With a Little Help from My Friends        5:13   Joe Cocker    Joe Cocker: The Anthology

4. Teach Your Children  3:02   Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young  Four Way Street

5. You’ve Got a Friend    4:33   James Taylor    Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon

6. Weave Me the Sunshine      4:28   Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Lean On Me     4:24   Al Jarreau    Ain’t No Sunshine

8. Pollution 4:50   Basskick    Sound Of The Nature – Collection 5

9. Powerhouse      2:56   Don Byron   Bug Music

10. untitled      4:11       The Tiptons Sax Quartet   Laws Of Motion

Ecotopia #41 Plastiki

Posted by on 17 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Date:  14 July 09

In the 1967 film “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire offers one word of advice to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock—Plastics. In the 19th century, Horace Greely may have said “Go west young man,” but in the 20th, Mr. McGuire says, “Get into plastics.” And from many perspectives, Mr. McGuire was right—ours has become an age of plastics, and that’s what we discuss in this edition of Ecotopia. We with the Jo Royle, skipper of an ocean-going sailboat named Plastiki. Later this year the Plastiki Expedition sail from San Francisco to Sydney in order to raise awareness of the ecological dangers of plastic. Skipper Jo Royle’s boat is being constructed entirely out of recycled plastic materials, including twelve thousand recycled two-liter soft drink bottles.

Background: Our Love-Hate Affair with Plastic

So what exactly is this stuff called “plastic”?.  Our Google search turned up that:

  • Most broadly, the word “plastic” means “fictile”: “capable of being molded or modeled (especially of earth or clay or other soft material)”;
  • More specifically, “plastic” it is a generic name “for certain synthetic or semisynthetic materials that can be molded or extruded into objects or films or filaments or used for making coatings and adhesives.”


And even more specifically, the “Wise Geek” tells us that Plastic is:

a polymer composed of a long chain or line of smaller molecules that are known as monomers. Monomers themselves are made of atoms that are usually extracted from natural or organic substances, and are generally classified as petrochemicals. All sorts of monomers can be utilized in the creation of plastic. Crude oil and natural gas are often the source of some of these elements, which include monomers such as styrene, vinyl chloride, and vinyl acetate. […] Liquid monomers are poured into a mold and allowed to cool.


People Love Plastic. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle,  Zahid Ardar observes:

Designers everywhere are experimenting with the wondrous properties of low-cost, lightweight plastic. Its luminescent translucency and malleability – – long camouflaged in cheap or unattractive products such as wood-grain Formica or slate-like exterior siding that only makes use of plastic’s impermeability — are now highlighted in new ways. Plastic has moved from a supporting role to being the star.

In homes, utilitarian plastic components — window shades, washable wallpaper, polyurethane mattress foam and paint, vinyl upholstery and PVC pipes — have been popular yet essentially invisible in the background. Now, plastic furniture and accessories appear center stage in the most elegant living spaces.

Furniture, carpets and translucent screens of plastic are as easy to find as Bakelite knobs were in the early 20th century. Now, when an acrylic or polylactic acid (PLA) computer case swivels into a plasma screen or one-piece footwear of lightweight injection-molded material providing a seamless shell and a rubbery sole, you can experience the new enhanced plastics up close.

[…] Industrial designer Yves Béhar, whose San Francisco firm, Fuseproject, specializes in just such design gymnastics, [says that]  Plastic is appropriate for most of his work because of its material flexibility. He even admires plastic’s infamous longevity: Long-lasting products don’t have to be replaced or remade as often — an environmental plus. […] Once considered just a cheap substitute for other materials, plastic has now become an attractive option for high-end consumer goods. It can be flexible, inert and exceedingly strong — so strong that carbon fiber-reinforced plastic sheathing can hold up bridges. Yet melted plastic can be injected into delicate molds to make precise components as small as Lego toys and ball bearings.


People Hate Plastic: But we have also come to see the downside of plastics, which has prompted an entire web site devoted to “I think I hate plastic.” Its blog entries provide hundreds of reasons to hate plastics, including:

Plastic is forever—it lasts a long, long time.

Water bottles: An energy inefficient, toxic commodity that we use once and throw “out”, where it languishes for 1,000 years

Plastic packaging: Clam shell packaging often contains a form of PVC, which has high levels of lead and phthalates. This makes the packaging more durable, less bendy, and impossible to open. Exposure to these chemicals according to researchers can be linked to premature birth delivery, early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, genital defects and reduced testosterone production in boys

Plastic Bags: Americans discard over 380 billion plastic grocery bags each year, choking landfills and endangering animals.


The Problem with Plastic In the Ocean: Especially relevant to our discussion tonight is this report from Science: How Stuff Works:

The main problem with plastic — besides there being so much of it — is that it doesn’t biodegrade. No natural process can break it down. (Experts point out ­that the durability that makes plastic so useful to humans also makes it quite harmful to nature.) Instead, plastic photodegrades. A plastic cigarette lighter cast out to sea will fragment into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic without breaking into simpler compounds, which scientists estimate could take hundreds of years. The small bits of plastic produced by photodegradation are called mermaid tears or nurdles.

These tiny plastic particles can get sucked up by filter feeders and damage their bodies. Other marine animals eat the plastic, which can poison them or lead to deadly blockages. Nurdles also have the insidious property of soaking up toxic chemicals. Over time, even chemicals or poisons that are widely diffused in water can become highly concentrated as they’re mopped up by nurdles. These poison-filled masses threaten the entire food chain, especially when eaten by filter feeders that are then consumed by large creatures.

[Moreover, the nurdles accumulate] :

In t­he broad expanse of the northern Pacific Ocean, there exists the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a slowly moving, clockwise spiral of currents created by a high-pressure system of air currents. The area is an oceanic desert, filled with tiny phytoplankton but few big fish or mammals. Due to its lack of large fish and gentle breezes, fishermen and­ s­ailors rarely travel through the gyre. But the area is filled with something besides plankton: trash, millions of pounds of it, most of it plastic. It’s the largest landfill in the world, and it floats in the middle of the ocean.

The gyre has actually given birth to two large masses of ever-accumulating trash, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches, sometimes collectively called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Eastern Garbage Patch floats between Hawaii and California; scientists estimate its size as two times bigger than Texas. The Western Garbage Patch forms east of Japan and west of Hawaii. Each swirling mass of refuse is massive and collects trash from all over the world. The patches are connected by a thin 6,000-mile long current called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. Research flights showed that significant amounts of trash also accumulate in the Convergence Zone.



Our Questions for Jo Royle

  • Please tell us about the Plastiki project. When and where did it originate?  What are its goals?
  • What are the dates for the planned trip? What sort of media coverage is planned for the sail date?
  • Who designed the boat? How is it constructed? How long did it take to build it?
  • Where did the 2-liter plastic bottles come from?  Will they degrade at sea? What other recycled materials are used? Is the whole boat made of recycled materials?
  • How big is the boat and how large is the crew?  What will their roles be?
  • Tell us about the energy generation, fresh water creation and waste treatment systems that make the boat self-contained.
  • What is your course?  How will you navigate?  Will you have radio contact with the shore? Will you make stops along the way?
  • Will the trip be filmed? Will there be other boats accompanying the Plastiki boat?
  • What will you do with the boat once you reach Sydney?

Beyond Tiki:

  • What’s the Eastern Garbage Patch and how has it been formed?
  • How much plastic waste is there at sea?  (in landfills?  littering the highways?)
  • What ideas are being put forth to deal with the Eastern Garbage Patch? Can the waste there be reused?
  • One purpose of the voyage is to activate people to be “smart with waste” and to think of it as a “valuable resource.” What are some ideas for making use of our waste?
  • Please tell us more about the individuals who have created this project and their expertise.
  • What follow-up events does the Plastiki group have after the voyage? How will you keep the project going?

Do-It-Yourself: Plastic and Ecology

As a follow up to our interview with Jo Royle, you may enjoy visiting the Plastiki web site, http://www.theplastiki.com/ , which contains an artist rendering of the boat and details about the project.  Once the Plastiki sets sail, we will be tracking its voyage on Ecotopia.

There is a lot of obvious stuff that we can do about plastic, including recycling.  But the number one cure for the plastic problem is to avoid using it, and especially not using throwaway plastics.

How Stuff Works site which we quoted earlier has an excellent list of resources related not only to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but to plastic problems, recyling possibilities, and even proposed and pending legislation that will attempt to cut down on the more dangerous plastics and in various ways encourage or legislate eliminating or recycling plastics.


We also have found some interesting recycling ideas on http://greenupgrader.com on ways of putting plastic to use in ways that will keep it out of the landfills.

We’ve posted those links on our website.

An especially useful article by Liz Borkowski can be found on the Green America website. In “Greener Paths for Plastics,” she writes:

Here are ways to make your plastic use healthier and more environmentally friendly.

Reduce and Reuse: There are a few cases—such as that of medical  supplies—in which it’s necessary to use plastic once and then discard  it, but it’s often possible to find a better alternative. Avoid single-use items such as disposable bottles, plates, and cutlery. Carry a  refillable bottle or mug for beverages on the go, and bring reusable  cloth bags to stores. For leftovers and takeout food, reusable  containers are better than foam boxes or plastic wrap and bags. If you regularly buy products that are only available in plastic packaging,  buy the largest container available, rather than the multiple smaller  ones, to cut down on the total amount of plastic used.

Take precautions: […]The  Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has issued a “Smart  Plastics Guide” that includes the following recommendations […]:

·        Avoid using plastic containers in the microwave. Instead, use  glass or ceramic containers free of metallic paint.

·        Beware of cling wraps, especially for microwave use.

·        If you do [re]use plastic water bottles, take precautions. […] Do not  use for warm or hot liquids, and discard old or scratched water  bottles. […] you can reduce bacterial  contamination by thoroughly washing daily. However, avoid using harsh  detergents that can break down the plastic and increase chemical leaching.

Take Care With Kids: The rapid development and immature immune systems  of fetuses and children make them particularly susceptible to damage  from toxins, so pregnant women and parents should exercise extra  caution with plastics. The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition  […] advises choosing cloth and wooden toys and avoiding plastic  toys, which are often made of PVC and can leach harmful chemicals when  chewed on. Or, consult Greenpeace’s Toy Report Card to learn which toy  manufacturers have eliminated PVC from their products.

Concerns about the rising price and supply limits of petroleum, as  well as environmental factors, have spurred the use and development of  bioplastics synthesized from corn, soy, sugar cane, and other crops.  Toyota has started using bioplastics in some of its cars; Wild Oats,  Newman’s Own, and Del Monte have adopted them for deli and food  packages; and even Wal-Mart has begun using a corn based packaging for cut fruit and vegetables. Most of the bioplastic packaging used in the  US is polymerized lactic acid (PLA) made by NatureWorks LLC, a company  owned by Cargill.

Unlike conventional plastics, bioplastics  biodegrade relatively quickly under the right conditions, and they’re  made from annually renewable crops rather than petroleum. PLA can also  be recycled into more of the same product repeatedly, while plastic  can’t. Early reports suggest that bioplastic can be an effective substitute  for petroleum-based plastic. Last July, the Los Angeles Times  published an article about Cargill’s Nebraska facility that  manufactures PLA from corn. “The end products—which include T-shirts,  forks and coffins—look, feel and perform like traditional polyester  and plastic made from a petroleum base,” the article reports. “But the  manufacturing process consumes 50 percent less fossil fuel, even after  accounting for the fuel needed to plant and harvest the corn.”


Playlist 41 Plastiki

1. Bali H’ai     3:29    Juanita Hall  South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast)

2. Calypso      3:49    John Denver     Earth Songs

3. Pacific Ocean Blues         2:37    Dennis Wilson  Pacific Ocean Blue & Bambu –

4. Sail On, Sailor       3:19    The Beach Boys  Greatest Hits Volume 3: The Best Of The Brother Years 1970 – 1986

5. The 3 R’s    2:54    Jack Johnson    Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies For The Film Curious George

6. Weave Me the Sunshine  4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Pollution     4:50    Basskick    Sound Of The Nature – Collection 5

Ecotopia #40 Fordlandia and Ecotopia

Posted by on 07 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Date:  July 7

Tonight our topic is the dream world of social and technological Utopias, and our guest is Greg Grandin, Professor of Latin American History at New York University. We’ll be talking with him about his book Fordlandia, describing efforts of Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company to establish a rubber plantation in Brazil.  For Henry Ford, however, this was more than a business venture, as he attempted to export his vision of a utopian midwestern life, architecture, social structure, and work ethic to Brazil. We’ll give you a hint: Henry Ford’s utopia didn’t turn out so well, and historian Greg Grandin will help us understand why.

Utopian Visions: Fiction and World News

The title of our program is taken from Ernest Callender’s 1973 utopian novel describing his version of an ideal society that forms after northern California, Oregon, and Washington secede from the Union to form a more perfect union.


Humankind has liked to write about Utopias for a long period of time.  Plato’s REPUBLIC was one effort to design a perfect society, as was Sir Thomas More’s 1516 genre-naming UTOPIA, about a perfect society created on a Greek Island, as is Ursula LeGuin’s ALWAYS COME HOME, a 1985 novel about a fictional Kesh people living in Northern California.

And there have been and continue to be real-world social communities that function following a particular set of ideas or ideals, including Robert Owen’s “harmonist” society in New Harmony Indiana (1825), the Emersonian transcendental Brook Farm in Massachusetts (1841), the Shaker Oneida Community (1848), up to the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas. These have obviously had varying ratios of success and failure, but the impulse to start a society afresh, with new ground rules, no baggage, and a hopeful future persists.

As our guest, Greg Grandin notes, Henry Ford had very clear notions about what was right and wrong with society and made a number of efforts to implement his utopian visions in the U.S. as well as Brazil.

And as Grandin notes, Henry Ford’s efforts at technological and social perfection were not always well received including in his own time. Writing in 1932, Aldous Huxley had little use for Ford’s mass production techniques and thought they would homogenize society. In his novel, BRAVE NEW WORLD,  Ford’s ideas turn to a nightmarish dystopia.   (Note in the that the diety here is called “Our Ford.”)

The Director [of the CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE]  and his students stood for a short time watching a game of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. Twenty children were grouped in a circle round a chrome steel tower. A ball thrown up so as to land on the platform at the top of the tower rolled down into the interior, fell on a rapidly revolving disk, was hurled through one or other of the numerous apertures pierced in the cylindrical casing, and had to be caught.

“Strange,” mused the Director, as they turned away, “strange to think that even in Our Ford’s day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and perhaps a bit of netting. imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption.

Aldous Huxley’s distopian vision the world of “Our Ford” continues. Inside the LONDON CENTRAL HATCHERY, the Director tells his students about the process of Bokanovskification, which leads to the creation of Henry Ford-style assembly-line babies.

“One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress. […]  Identical twins–but not in piddling twos and threes as in the old viviparous days [… Imagine:]  Ninety-six identical twins [growing up to work] ninety-six identical machines!” The [Director’s] voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. […] He quoted the planetary motto. “Community, Identity, Stability.” Grand words. “If we could bokanovskify indefinitely the whole problem would be solved.”


Utopias do not, of course, have to be set up as isolated communities. They are possible—or at least conceivable—working within the friendly confines and resources of our existing society. Two news stories from the past week illustrate this point.

From the United Kingdom Guardian comes an op-ed by Alan Walker, professor of social policy and social gerontology at the University of Sheffield. Walker claims that “A golden age of aging is no utopian dream”:

As the baby boomer generation matures, a well-chosen ageing policy would improve the education, health and wealth of society as a whole. […] There are now more people aged 65 and over in the UK than children under 16 which has never occurred before. Social change of this type and magnitude is difficult to comprehend, particularly because it is continuous rather than sudden.[…] We need to foster a new idea of old age, as a time of opportunities, and to replace its current, largely passive, dependent and discriminatory associations.

[In Alan Walker’s Utopia, older] people would have a choice about key aspects of their lives, which only a minority enjoy at present, such as retirement and full- or part-time working. The stigma of being an older jobseeker would be removed and a range of part-work part-pension options become available. Preventative health measures in employment would increase the job prospects and proportion of older workers.

A social pension would remove the risk of poverty, while individual pension savings would still afford higher levels of comfort. Advanced old age services would be individually customised and be available in people’s homes. A range of housing options would maximise independence and interdependence within the family and lifelong communities.


As we consider utopian thinking on this edition of Ecotopia, we have this report  from The Australian by Rowan Callick about a “Project Utopia” that will bring together visions of the world through art. He reports:

Australia and Japan are developing together a Utopia Project that would present an arts Olympics every two years in an Asia-Pacific centre. They have enlisted the potential support of eight other countries in planning to stage non-competitive arts shows that would include artists, works and performances from across the region. The project would involve exhibitions, workshops and educational presentations, and would move to a different city each time in order to share the costs and the impact.

Alison Carroll, the arts director at Asialink, which is promoting the project, says: […] “This trend of collaboration in our region is accelerating now. The structures are growing stronger all the time, in education and the arts. Unless we’re proactive, we’ll miss the boat because even now, we are not always viewed as part of the region. So we have to demonstrate our commitment.” […]

“Arts are a great way for countries to scrape away preconceptions and present what’s really happening today. And we too in Australia tend to have an old-fashioned view of Asia and culture.

“We seem to think that contemporary art only happens in New York or Venice, but it’s happening all around us. That’s a shame, because in some respects we know more about Asia than any other Western country does. If we don’t take advantage of that, it’s our loss.”


Our Questions for Greg Grandin

Our guest on this edition of Ecotopia is Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University and author of a new book called Fordlandia. It describes a community or “factory town” created in Brazil in the 1920s by Henry Ford, ostensibly as a rubber plantation, but also as a means of exporting of some of Henry Ford’s ideas about his views of the American Way of Life.  Welcome Greg.

  • Your subtitle is: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten City. Please tell us a little of the background story. What was Fordlandia?  How did Henry Ford come to create it?
  • What happened in the early years at Fordlandia? What were some of the obstacles that the Ford employees encountered (and created) when they brought Dearborn, Michigan to the Amazon?
  • Henry Ford had some very clear (if sometimes apparently contradictory) social theories—he is legendary for imposing his values on his employees through threat as well as example. What values did he try to bring to Fordlandia?
  • Your book has photographs of Cape Code-style houses in Fordlandia (and its sibling Belterra) showing neat rows of bungalows And you have a pair of photos showing virtually identical Ford-built Cape Cod houses in Alberta, Michigan and  in Brazil. What does this tell us about Ford and his attitudes?
  • Please tell us about the factory whistle at Fordlandia and what it represented. And the time clocks, which the workers came to destroy in the riot of 1930. (Why did they riot?)
  • You have visited Fordlandia. What does it look like today?
  • You’ve also talked to both Brazilians and Americans who worked at Fordlandia. What did you learn from them?
  • You detail many reasons for the failure of Fordlandia, but most prominent among them seems to be not so much the imposition of Ford’s social model as his attempt to farm rubber trees on an kind of factory farming model. Please explain what happened. Aren’t rubber trees native to Brazil in the first place?
  • You offer some insights into Henry Ford’s oft-cited but seldom explained, “History is bunk.” Why wasn’t Ford interested in history?  Do you suppose he would put your book in the “bunk” category?
  • There are many “morals” or “lessons” to be learned from the Fordlandia experiment? At the risk of asking you to oversimplify, please tell us a few of the conclusions you’ve drawn about the implications of Fordlandia. What can we learn from it?
  • In the Epilogue, you also offer some comments on current ecological and social problems in Brazil and add that in comparision, “Henry Ford’s vision of an Emersonian arcadia rising from the jungle canopy, though preposterous, now seems relatively benign.” Please explain.
  • Our program title, Ecotopia, is taken from Ernest Callender’s utopian sci fi novel about a utopian nation established in the Pacific northwest. And the US has a long history of utopian experiments (as well as company towns). Stepping outside your role as historian, what do you think of the dream of planned communities that might solve some our pressing economic and social problems (including, perhaps Obama Nation)?
  • What’s your next book?

Thank you Greg Grandin, Professor of Latin American History at NYU. Greg is author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten City, published by Metropolitan Books, a division of Henry Holt and Company.


Do-It-Yourself Utopianism

We come now to the do-it-yourself part of the program, and we want to give you a few down-to-earth utopian ideas about the concept of “permaculture,” a term generally popularized by  David Holmgren of Australia.

In his book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Homgren has developed a set of principles about sustainable community living. Here are those principles as practiced by Heathcote, an intentional community living on about 100 acres in Freeland, Maryland.

The people at Heathcote say that “Permaculture principles are derived from observing nature. […] The[se principles] are things we see happening in natural ecosystems that we want to copy. We observe nature and try to mimic what it does. They have seven principles:

Conservation – Use only what is needed.

Stacking functions – In permaculture we speak about getting many yields (outputs) from one element (thing) in your system.

Repeating functions – We meet every need in multiple ways.

Reciprocity – Utilize the yields of each element to meet the needs of other elements in the system.

Appropriate scale – What we design should be on a human scale and doable with the available time, skills, and money that we have

Diversity – [creating] resilience by utilizing many elements.

Give away the surplus – Create systems that are abundant and share the abundance rather than hoarding it for ourselves.

Of course, you can also see many of these principles in operation in the Northstate. For example, we have the Gardners’ Swap meet, which takes place tomorrow evening, 6-8 pm at the Peace and Justice Center and at other times and locations around town. Utopia and Permaculture are not that far away.

The people at Heathcote have two (only)  wonderful activities for you to practice:

1. Think of something in your life that illustrates each of the seven principles.

2. If you can’t think of something you are already doing that illustrates each principle, think of something you could do.


Playlist for Ecotopia #40: Utopia and Fordlandia

1. Working On A Dream     3:30    Bruce Springsteen  Working On A Dream

2. Utopia        4:58    Alanis Morissette  Under Rug Swept

3. riding to utopia     4:04    Lillian  Van Der Bascule

4. Utopia        6:23    Collide  Two Headed Monster

5. Love Is the Answer          4:18    Utopia  Oops! Wrong Planet

6. Weave Me the Sunshine           4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary          The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. A Place Called Home     3:43    PJ Harvey  Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea