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Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, he attended the University of Chicago, where he was drawn into the then 'new wave' of serious attention to film as an art form. After six months in Paris at the Sorbonne, watching four films a day, he returned to Chicago and earned a Masterâs degree in English and Communications.
Callenbach then moved to California. From 1955 to 1991, he was on the staff of the University of California Press (Berkeley). A general copywriter for a number of years, he edited the Press's Film Quarterly from 1958 until 1991. He also occasionally taught film courses at U.C. and at San Francisco State University.
For many years Callenbach edited the Natural History Guides at the U.C. Press. He began to take environmental issues and their connections to human value systems, social patterns, and lifestyles just as seriously as he had taken film. He was heavily influenced by Edward Abbey. He is therefore known as an author of green books, namely as author of the ecological utopias Ecotopia (1975) and Ecotopia Emerging (1981). He is said to have coined the word "ecotopia."
In terms of concepts of human involvement with the ecology, as well as some of the economic and social concepts, the Ecotopia books are related to what is known as the sustainability movement. Callenbachâs Ecotopian concept is not "Luddite" â he does not reject high technology, but rather his fictional society shows a conscious selectivity about technology. As an example, with its emphasis on personal rather than impersonal interaction, Callenbachâs Ecotopian society anticipates the development and liberal usage of videoconferencing.
Indeed, for all his involvement with print publications, Callenbach remained quite interested in visual media. Aspects of his book Ecotopia in some ways anticipated "reality TV" â which emerged into recognition, and was given a label as a genre, 20 or more years later â because in the story the daily life of the legislature and some of that of the judicial courts is televised in this fictional society, and televised debates (including technical debates concerning ecological problems) met a need and desire among citizens.
Callenbach has been a part of the circle of West Coast technologists, architects, social thinkers, and scientists which has included such luminaries as Ursula K. Le Guin, Starhawk (Miriam Simos), Sim Van der Ryn, Peter Calthorpe, Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, J. Baldwin, and John Todd. As with a number of these others, he has been a speaker, discussion panellist, and essayist.
Recently, Callenbach has introduced the story of a real-world community movement in Japan that is reminiscent, in its aims and practices, of his Ecotopian society. He visited Japan and investigated the Yamagishi movement. It encompasses some three dozen intentional communities founded on the same underlying principles: living an ecologically based integration of people with agriculture (pig, cattle, and chicken livestock rasing, and organic-vegetable and fruit farming), and living a social life based on principles of democracy, mutual understanding, support, and health. Each individual settlement is referred to as jikkenji (âdemonstration community for the worldâ).
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