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Could ‘Ecotopia’ fantasy become a reality?

Jerry Brown walks along his 2,514-acre family ranch in Colusa County. Already a sharp critic of the Trump administration’s climate policies, could he lead Oregon, Washington and California in building a metaphorical “blue wall”?
Jerry Brown walks along his 2,514-acre family ranch in Colusa County. Already a sharp critic of the Trump administration’s climate policies, could he lead Oregon, Washington and California in building a metaphorical “blue wall”? NYT

Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel “Ecotopia” described a mythical nation carved out of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States – Washington, Oregon and Northern California – on the premise of environmental stewardship.

As summarized in Wikipedia, “The book is set in 1999 … and consists of diary entries and reports of journalist William Weston, who is the first American mainstream media reporter to investigate Ecotopia, a small country that broke away from the United States in 1980.”

Wikipedia adds, “the reader learns about the Ecotopian transportation system and the preferred lifestyle that includes a wide range of gender roles, sexual freedom and acceptance of non-monogamous relationships. Liberal cannabis use is evident. Televised mass-spectacle sports are displaced due to a preference for local arts, participatory sports and general fitness.”

Ecotopian society concentrated on renewable energy, green construction and sensitivity to nature. Education was emphasized and a highly localized system of universal medical care implemented.

If this sounds familiar? That’s because California, Washington and Oregon appear to be implementing, one piece at a time, Ecotopia’s major tenets.

That’s been especially true since Donald Trump was elected president and Republicans solidified their holds on most other state governments.

Some have called what’s happening on the Pacific Coast as building a “blue wall” – or a green one – as a barrier to the rest of the nation’s unwanted cultural trends. Gov. Jerry Brown’s extended tour of Europe, emphasizing California’s rebellion on climate change policy, exemplifies the rupture. Brown and other state politicians make headlines by declaring almost daily their disdain for what’s happening in the rest of the nation.

But a local election in a wealthy suburb of Seattle last week might have made the blue wall a political reality.

Democrats picked up a seat in Washington’s state Senate, solidifying the party’s total control of governorships and both legislative houses in all three Pacific Coast states. Minutes after Democrat Manka Dhingra claimed victory, Democratic leaders announced an ambitious agenda of liberal legislation.

Meanwhile, Democratic politicians in all three states are musing the possibilities for putting more mortar and bricks into the blue wall by enacting three-state policies that differ sharply from the Trump-led national government. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, wrote the New York Times, “harbors dreams of enacting a muscular carbon pricing plan along with California, Oregon and officials in Canada.”

How high could a blue wall rise? Could it lead to the Ecotopian rebellion Callenbach depicted?

That’s unlikely, but the left coast – geographically and ideologically – seems bent on challenging the inherent conflict between the U.S. Constitution’s federal supremacy clause and its 10th amendment protecting states’ rights. Where it leads is anyone’s guess.

Dan Walters writes on matters of statewide significance for CALmatters. Email dan@calmatters.org.

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