How to Build an Ecotopian Society

Most of us want to make the future a better place, but as an individual it's hard to feel like there's anything you can do on a daily or even yearly basis that will result in a better world 100 years from now. That's why I'm putting together a set of to-do lists for futurists — practical lists of things you can do in the here and now to change the future. Today I'm going to start with something fairly straightforward: building Ecotopia, an urban society that lives in harmony with the natural world. Here are five things you can put on your to-do lists that could help bring us closer to the goal Ernest Callenbach outlines in his fascinating novel Ecotopia.

To-List for Futurists: Building Ecotopia

1. Today: recycle all the waste materials you can.

2. Today: get educated by reading Jared "Guns, Germs, and Steel" Diamond's quietly disturbing book Collapse, which is about how societies destroy themselves by misusing natural resources. Getting a global, historical picture can help you understand what's at stake. Also, it's useful to realize that a lot of the environmental mistakes we're making now were already made in the past on a smaller scale.

3. This month: refurbish an old machine that you were going to throw away and start using it again. You don't have to use the machine for the same things it was built to do! Instructables and MAKE magazine have have a lot of great ideas for how to repurpose old machines.

4. This month: Spend one day volunteering with an organization or getting together with friends to help your community produce less environment-damaging waste. Think broadly about what it means to produce less waste. It could mean everything from cleaning up garbage in natural areas, to helping someone else refurbish their old computers. The point of this item on the to-do list is to work with other people (even if it's online) to reduce polluting waste, because you can't change the future all by yourself.

5. This year: Be sure that you vote for political candidates who support national and international cooperation to scale back on carbon emissions and toxic mining practices. Since this is a global problem, candidates need to be thinking outside city boundaries, state boundaries, and national boundaries. This could mean signing onto the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali plan, or it could mean cooperating with the city next door to treat acid mine drainage in a local area.

TOMORROW: How to Create Artificial Intelligence

Image by Mitch Epstein, via Ecotopia Exhibit.