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SPECULATING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE: SCIENCE FICTION AND THE
PEDAGOGY OF ECOLOGICAL LITERACY
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I am indebted to many for helping me with this project. I thank my thesis
advisors, Andrew Gordon and Sid Dobrin, for their commentary on matters both critical
to my arguments and to the details of my writing. I appreciate your time immensely. I
thank Andrew Gordon and my friends and colleagues in his Fall 2001, American Science
Fiction course for introducing me to the world of science fiction. In matters
environmental, I thank Eve and Joe Otto for our trips to the Boyd Hill Nature Trail;
Dorothy and Don Kane for Minneha Beach Resort in Battle Lake, Minnesota; my dad
and my brother Casey for our trips to "the grocery store"; my mom for sending me to the
Science Center every summer when I was a kid; and my brother Joey for our adventures
wading the flats behind O'Neil's, catching snook in Wild Turkey Bay in "the slowest
boat I ever seen," and spending every summer in quest of the Silver King. I also thank
the faculty of Florida Gulf Coast University-particularly Peter Blaze Corcoran, Jack
Crocker, Joe Wisdom, Jim Wohlpart, and Rebecca Totaro-for their encouragement over
the years. Finally, and to repeat a few names, this project would not have been
possible-nor am I possible-without the love and support of my family: Mom, Dad,
Tracy, Joey, Casey, Ricky, Chad, and my fiancee Tricia.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L ED G M EN T S ............................ ........ ....................................................... iv
ABSTRACT ............... .................... ......... .............. vii
1 INTRODUCTION: SCIENCE FICTION, ECOLOGY, AND PEDAGOGY ................1
Science Fiction as C critical Theory ........... .. ..................... ...... ............. ....... 2
The Pedagogy of Ecological Literacy and Environmental Sustainability .................... 4
SF and Environmental Thought: Texts for Change ............................................... 7
2 FRANK HERBERT'S DUNE AND ECOLOGICAL LITERACY .............................9
D une and Ecology: The Critical Tradition......................................... .................... 10
Indigenous Fremen and Stillsuits as Living Machines .............................................. 13
Interrogating Resident Paradigms.............................. ............ ........................ 19
"Afflicted by a Hero": The Fremen Jihad as Social Trap.......................................... 22
Ecological Literacy: A Paradigm for Change .......................................... .............. 26
3 THE DEEP ECOLOGY OF ENVIRONMENTAL UTOPIA: ECOSOPHY,
ECOTOPIA, AND WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME .....................................29
T he P population Problem ................................................................. ... .... .......... 33
"Forward, into the past?": Deep Ecology and Stable-State Economy...................... 36
Teaching "The relational, total-field im age" ............................................. ....... ....... 40
Sustainability through Community and Autonomy .................................................... 43
D w ellin g L ig htly ................................................................................ 4 6
4 KIM STANLEY ROBINSON'S MARS TRILOGY AND THE LEOPOLDIAN LAND
E T H IC ................................................................................................................... 4 9
Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic................................................... 51
The Mars Trilogy and the Economically Based Land Relation ........................... 54
Eco-Economics: Toward a Land Ethic ........................................................ 58
Spiritual A aspects of the Land Ethic ....................... ................ ............... .. ......... 61
Synthesizing Conceptions of the Land-Human Relationship ....................................... 64
C conclusion: R obinson's L and E thic ............................................................................ 77
5 CON CLU SION ................................. ............ .......................... .. 80
REFERENCES .................. ................................. ........ .. 83
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ...................................................................... ..................87
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
SPECULATING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE: SCIENCE FICTION AND THE
PEDAGOGY OF ECOLOGICAL LITERACY
Chair: Andrew Gordon
Major Department: English
This thesis fuses current discussions about science fiction (SF) as critical
discourse with ongoing discussions about the importance of ecological literacy as a
component of educating for environmental sustainability. The introduction-Chapter 1,
"Science Fiction, Ecology, and Pedagogy"-argues for the value of science fiction as
critical theory and, more specifically, as a genre that contributes to the pedagogy of
ecological literacy and thus to environmental sustainability.
By ecocritically analyzing several works of science fiction, the subsequent
chapters demonstrate the value of the genre for teaching ecological literacy. Chapter 2,
"Frank Herbert's Dune and Ecological Literacy," demonstrates how the science fiction
imagination often speculates changes and ideas that parallel the revisionary ideas of
ecological thinkers. Chapter 3 looks at two utopian novels-Ernest Callenbach's
Ecotopia and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time-within the contexts of deep
ecology, and it uses the revisionary concepts of thinkers like Arne Naess and Gary
Snyder to do so. Finally, Chapter 4 discusses Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy
within the context of Aldo Leopold's "land ethic."
Ultimately, this work shows that science fiction deserves critical attention as a
genre concerned about speculating crucial changes for the future, in this case, for a more
ecologically sustainable future. It also demonstrates the detailed attention SF often gives
to issues of ecology. Because of this attention, science fiction can assist the pedagogy of
ecological literacy. Works in the genre, such as the ones discussed in this thesis, become
crucial texts in the growing bibliography of works aimed to make readers more aware of
ecologically sustainable modes of thought and existence.
INTRODUCTION: SCIENCE FICTION, ECOLOGY, AND PEDAGOGY
The following work presents an effort to fuse current discussions about science
fiction (SF) as critical discourse with ongoing discussions about the importance of
ecological literacy in educating for environmental sustainability. The first discussion is
of interest to science fiction scholars, as literary critics are currently pointing out the
potential for science fiction to act as a mode of revisionary cultural criticism. The latter
discussion is important on a broader scale. Increasing numbers of people today recognize
that high consumption patterns, growth-centered economic habits, and other
characteristics of the modern, "developed" world damage the Earth's ecosystems in ways
that are both unhealthy and unethical and that we must make efforts to revise our ways of
thinking and acting into more ecologically sustainable paradigms and practices.
Ecological literacy leads to such a revision, as it stresses the importance of the question
"And then what?" while it calls attention to ideas that address this question from an
ecological perspective (Hardin 25).
In bringing these discourses together, this work considers several contemporary
science fiction texts-Frank Herbert's Dune (1965), Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia
(1975), Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and Kim Stanley Robinson's
Mars trilogy (1993, 1994, 1996)-as critical treatises that promote ecological literacy and
environmentally conscientious ways of life. I hope that after reading this text some may
see science fiction in a new way and incorporate ecological perspectives into their
reading and/or teaching of these and other works in the genre. By the same token, I hope
environmental educators will find in science fiction a tool for exploring perceptive
expressions of ecologically literate thought, thought required for achieving an
environmentally sustainability society.
Science Fiction as Critical Theory
A recent call for papers (CFP) for a special issue of Publications of the Modern
Language Association ofAmerica declares, "As futurity becomes an ever more urgent
concern, the importance of science fiction (the genre of the future par excellence) is
increasingly evident, and science fiction criticism becomes a privileged mode of literary
and cultural analysis" (Barr and Freedman 198). Would-be contributors are asked to
explore "the potential of [science fiction criticism] to define the literary profession of [the
first decade of the twenty-first century]" (198). Though at the time of my writing the
special issue has yet to be published, this CFP alone demonstrates the critical importance
scholars are beginning to attribute to science fiction. In fact, Carl Freedman, co-author of
this call for papers, insists in Critical Theory and Science Fiction that the critical stance
of many SF texts positions the genre as having "the potential to play a role in the
liberation of humanity from oppression" (xx).
Critical theory, as Freedman says, is "unswervingly ojlppii,inVh (8). Supporting
this, Freedman cites the Marxist opposition to "the increasingly 'totalitarian' character of
capitalism," the psychoanalytic opposition to simplified models of knowledge, the
poststructuralist opposition to totality, and the feminist opposition to patriarchal social
constructs (9). To exercise critical theory is thus to intervene in culturally dominant
modes of thinking and being in an effort to challenge what is inherently limiting,
oppressive, or dangerous in those modes. As Freedman claims, science fiction also
performs these operations.
Science fiction does not get the same privileges in academia as do canonized
works of literature. It is often devalued as pulp and pop. Nevertheless, critical theory-
which "constantly shows that things are not what they seem to be and that things need not
eternally be as they are"-inherently privileges science fiction (Freedman 8). As Brooks
Landon shows, science fiction resists concrete definitions; but, he admits, "we have a
pretty good idea of the kinds of territory it covers and the kinds of experiences we can
expect in those territories" (32). SF "territories," according to the definitions Landon
cites, include considering how science and technology affect humanity, focusing on
affairs more significant than the fate of one individual or community, and speculating on
fundamental conceptual innovations in order to challenge traditional constructs of
knowledge and being (31-33). The subversive nature of these territories assures a healthy
SF/critical theory symbiosis, for science fiction speculates about other pasts, other
presents, other futures, other worlds, other technologies, and even other Others. Like
critical theory's revisionary and oppositional speculations, science fiction ultimately
contemplates potential changes in the ideological status quo for a better human existence
on the Earth.
As a result, science fiction does occupy a privileged position for those whose
scholarly interests are in emancipating individuals and groups from hegemonic paradigms
of power, race, class, sexuality, and so forth. As critical discourse, science fiction draws
our attention to the faults of dominant and oppressive modes of social reality as it also
constructs paradigms that better support the egalitarian world that critical theory hopes to
The Pedagogy of Ecological Literacy and Environmental Sustainability
Emancipatory pedagogy is succeeding in applying the tenets of critical theory in
the classroom. But while the revisionary attitude of the classes being offered in many
universities, and in the texts used to teach these classes, promises to instill in students the
conscientious outlooks and worldviews that critical theory supports, its lack of attention
to ecology and environment demonstrates what ecological thinker C.A. Bowers calls "the
liberal impasse" toward issues of ecology (73-116).
Taking issue with critical pedagogy, Bowers suggests that the current push toward
emancipatory, critical theory-based teaching errs in several ways. The liberated
is still viewed as independent of the natural environment; critical
reflection remains the only legitimate expression of intelligence, which
excludes both traditional cultures and the complex information exchanges
that characterize an ecology; change is still understood in human and
culturally specific terms that equate progress only with an expansion of
the individual's sense of freedom. (115)
In other words, the emphasis critical theory and emancipatory pedagogy have placed on
freeing individuals from oppressive social paradigms and hegemonic power structures
has allowed important issues of ecology to go unnoticed, to get lost in the
anthropocentrism of supposedly radical thought.
A truly radical revision of the academy would occur, according to Bowers, if we
developed "an ecology based approach to education," an approach that considers "how
we think about the nature of time, knowledge, freedom, change, community, science, and
technology" in terms of an "ecological model of existence" (164). Under Bowers's
vision of a curriculum that focuses on ecological literacy, the "Guiding metaphors of a
culture of progress and environmental exploitation" shift to "New (and ancient) guiding
metaphors for a sustainable culture" (167). Change in the way of innovation and
experimentation surrenders to tradition and an "awareness of continuities with the past";
community as a collection of humans surrenders to community as an "ecology of life
forms"; and faith in rational knowledge surrenders to faith in many forms of knowledge,
including tacit, critical, folk, and spiritual knowledge (167-168).
Such a shift in the guiding metaphors of modern culture requires a sustained
attention to the ideas of ecological thinkers who have worked out crucial philosophies of
human existence as a part of-rather than apart from-the Earth's natural ecologies. The
environmentalists most frequently referred to in this thesis-Aldo Leopold, Ame Naess,
Gary Snyder, David W. Orr, and C.A. Bowers-have articulated a multiplicity of ideas
regarding, for example, how we should relate to the land community, how we should
reevaluate our growth-centered economy and aim for one that is stable and ecologically
sustainable, and how we should value and adopt "primitive" modes of existence that view
humanity and Earth as intricately interconnected. Indeed, the place for initiating these
"deep changes," as Bowers calls them, is the classroom. Unfortunately, more often than
not the ideas taught in contemporary classrooms support a human/nature dichotomy, a
faith in modem industrial progress, and, ultimately, a way of knowing and being that
disregards the fundamental connections we have with the natural world.
As with any attempt to grasp a topic or phenomenon more fully, becoming more
ecologically literate involves understanding an array of concepts and issues. The
following chapters only begin to explore potential areas of inquiry within this array.
Indeed, alongside my discussion, in Chapter 3, of deep ecology as a crucial
environmental philosophy, one could also discuss ecofeminist perspectives on the
environment. Alongside my discussion, in Chapter 4, of Aldo Leopold's land ethic, one
could also discuss Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring and the ecological ideas
communicated there. And because there is such a large volume of quality, critical
science fiction, ecocritical readings of other SF works could support discussions of these
other environmental topics. The point here, though, is not to aim for quantity. Rather, it
is to suggest that science fiction is an invaluable resource for learning about issues of
ecology and environment and to demonstrate this claim by exploring several works in the
Further, the broader context for my discussion of ecological literacy is, as the left
side of my title suggests, environmental sustainability. Ecological literacy attends to
scientific, political, social, psychological, and philosophical views of ecology and
environment, and it does so to promote sound concepts of environmental sustainability.
Commonly defined as the ability to meet the needs of present generations without
threatening the needs of future generations, environmental sustainability is an important
agenda for all disciplines to pursue, both inside and outside of academia (World
Commission on Environment and Development 43). Severe environmental stress
resulting from unsustainable practices appears in recent climate trends as well as in many
of the Earth's ecosystems. For this reason, educating for environmental sustainability is
crucial. But, as Derek Owens points out in Composition and Sustainability: Teaching
for a Threatened Generation, sustainability is not a stable idea (21-35). Some, like those
in the Brundtland Commission, who coined the abovementioned definition, aim to
preserve natural resources for future generations. And because resources, in a capitalist
economy, means capital, others view sustainability in terms of "sustaining profits"
Ecological literacy, though, can prevent such "weak," ecologically unsound, and
resource-based definitions of environmental sustainability by grounding the term in
healthier concepts of ecology (Owens 25). Thus, while sustainability is the larger context
within which ecological literacy gains its importance, ecological literacy assures that the
agenda of environmental sustainability remains focused on altering current paradigms
into ones that are more conscious of the workings of natural systems. In the end, texts
interested in communicating components of ecological literacy, such as the SF texts
below, ultimately have a broader ambition: to oppose resource-based views of ecology
and to advance long-term, ethical views of the natural environment.
SF and Environmental Thought: Texts for Change
As scholars and teachers of science fiction, we can work toward the goal of
establishing ecologically literate ways of thinking and acting by interpreting the texts we
study from an environmental perspective. To do so can bring about an awareness of the
various paradigm shifts advocated by ecological thinkers like Orr, Bowers, and others.
Such is the goal of the essays that follow.
Chapter 2, "Frank Herbert's Dune and Ecological Literacy," demonstrates how
the science fiction imagination often speculates on changes and ideas that parallel the
revisionary ideas of ecological thinkers. I look at Dune as a text about ecological
literacy. Dune's indigenous Fremen, water-conserving stillsuits, interrogation of ways of
life that oppose natural systems, and critique of the hegemony's control over "primitive"
classes display two opposing ecological paradigms: one sustainable and the other
environmentally destructive. Herbert's seminal novel informs readers of the ecological
problems inherent in current political and economic systems as it also supports the
thoughts and actions of ecologically literate cultures.
Chapter 3 looks at two utopian novels-Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia and Marge
Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time-in terms of the deep ecological paradigm they
support. I draw from Arne Naess's and Gary Snyder's discussions of deep ecology to
show that Callenbach's and Piercy's novels encourage the fundamental changes this
movement advocates-which include reducing world population, reevaluating the growth
economy, viewing the world as an interconnected system, developing community and
regional attitudes, and reducing human impact on the Earth.
Finally, in Chapter 4 I use Aldo Leopold's "land ethic" to discuss the thrust of
Kim Stanley Robinson's mammoth Mars trilogy. While the books comprising the series
document a wealth of future histories, including the terraformation of Mars and the
colonization of a new frontier, I argue that Robinson's ultimate motive is to synthesize a
variety of conflicting worldviews into one that sees a fundamental symbiosis among all
of the living and nonliving components of an ecosystem, of the land.
In sum, the chapters of this work serve two purposes: (1) they show that science
fiction deserves critical attention as a genre concerned about speculating on crucial
changes for the future, in this case, for a more ecologically sustainable future; and (2)
they demonstrate the detailed attention SF often gives to issues of ecology. Because of
this attention, science fiction can assist the pedagogy of ecological literacy. Works in the
genre, such as the ones discussed below, become crucial texts in the growing
bibliography of works aimed to make readers more aware of ecologically sustainable
modes of thought and existence.
FRANK HERBERT'S DUNE AND ECOLOGICAL LITERACY
"The thing the ecologically illiterate don't realize about an ecosystem,"
Kynes said, "is that it's a system. A system! A system maintains a certain
fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A
system has order, a flowing from point to point. If something dams that
flow, order collapses. The untrained might miss that collapse until it was
too late. That's why the highest function of ecology is the understanding
of consequences." (Dune 482)
In promoting such thinking, Frank Herbert's Dune is an appropriate source and
starting point for discussing the ecological concepts imbedded in science fiction. With
the desert planet Arrakis, its indigenous Fremen, and the Fremen stillsuits, the 1965 novel
serves as a pedagogical tool for exploring theories and models of ecological literacy that
have recently emerged in the texts of contemporary ecological thinkers. This is not to
claim any prescience on Herbert's part; as Peter Nicholls notes in The Encyclopedia of
Science Fiction, SF is not the literature of prediction (957). However, because Herbert's
work displays such an awareness of the ecological concepts and philosophies about
which recent environmental thinkers like Nancy and John Todd, David W. Orr, and C.A.
Bowers have written, Dune can be situated within an entire bibliography of texts that
serve the important purposes of environmental education and the push toward ecological
In this chapter, I want to begin discussing concepts of ecology as they are
represented and formulated in science fiction. Dune serves this intent well, because it
1 Such a bibliography can be found in Orr's Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a
Postmodern World, 109-124.
brings ecological literacy to the fore. In exploring ecological literacy and how Dune
cultivates such literacy among the characters in the novel and among those reading it, this
chapter also serves as a framework for the subsequent chapters, which focus on more
specific ecological ideas-deep ecology and Aldo Leopold's land ethic, respectively.
With its focus on the general concept of ecological literacy and on several components of
that literacy, Dune thus works to demonstrate the pedagogical possibilities of science
fiction for environmental education's motive to restructure the fundamental ways in
which we understand and live with the Earth.
Dune and Ecology: The Critical Tradition
Scholars of Frank Herbert's work frequently discuss ecology in Dune. But
ecology means something different for each critic, and in each case the term operates
differently from the definition with which I am working. For example, in his reader's
guide to Herbert's novels, David M. Miller finds the ecological principal of homeostasis
to be a pervasive theme throughout Dune and Herbert's other works:
Homeostasis is the tendency of an organism to maintain a uniform and
beneficial physiological stability within and between its parts. If we
extend this definition to include not only biological organisms but also
psychological, social, economic, political, religious, and ecological units,
and if we subject that expanded homeostasis to a universal evolutionary
imperative, we have a nutshell version of Herbert's themes. (9)
Miller's ecological model for Herbert's work is perceptive and useful for investigating
the complex relationships between the many political, social, religious, and cultural facets
of Dune. Later in Miller's exploration of the novel, though, homeostasis serves only as a
metaphor for a much narrower look into Dune's political dynamics: "The Imperium
depends upon the Landsraat, the Landsraat upon the Imperium. Both draw economic
power from CHOAM. CHOAM cannot function without the Space Guild, but the Space
Guild is dependent upon spice" (19). This attention to the political ecology of Dune is
insightful for its emphasis on the significant parallels between the workings of politics
and economics and the workings of natural systems, but in reducing ecology to a
thematic device and a metaphor for political systems, Miller draws attention away from
Herbert's concentration on the ways in which humans must behave as members of natural
Also using ecology as a metaphor for other foci of Herbert's work, Timothy
O'Reilly emphasizes how the author explores "the ecologist's emphasis on variety and
adaptability as the key to the stability of ecosystems" (6). For O'Reilly, Herbert's
ecological vision in Dune stresses "trying to keep up with change rather than to stop it"
(8). Such adaptability is indeed ecological; but in O'Reilly's concept of ecology, it is
Paul Atreides's future jihad-rather than any incidents involving natural systems-that
demonstrates this natural adaptability, for it is an element of chaos not "for the sake of
chaos, but a natural order trying to reassert itself' (125). That O'Reilly, like Miller,
undervalues Herbert's attention to natural ecology is evident when he states, "what
Herbert does in Paul's visions [of the jihad] is to take ecological concepts to a much
deeper level. Paul comes to see opposition between the aims of civilization and those of
nature, as represented by the human unconscious" (50). Imbedded in O'Reilly's
observation is the idea that ecology, as a complex state of natural ecosystems, becomes
more deep and complex either when internalized as a psychological tension between
culture (civilization) and nature (individual psychology), or when that tension is played
out in the political sphere-i.e., status quo versus jihad. Again, ecology becomes simply
a metaphor for addressing the complexities of human psychology or politics.
Finally, in his study of Frank Herbert, William F. Touponce claims that ecology is
the principal theme ofDune, but like Miller and O'Reilly, he qualifies the term in a way
that undermines the significance of Herbert's focus on ecological literacy: "Ecology [..
.] has a much broader meaning than the study of organisms and their interaction with
their environments. It can mean globally social ecology, political ecology, economic
ecology, and even language" (14). Touponce's specific interest is the latter: the semantic
ecology of Dune. He notices a system of interaction between indirect discourse
(authorial narration), direct discourse (inner speech and audible speech), and quasi-direct
discourse narrationall speech that preserves the language of a particular character). This
interaction is ecological in the sense that Herbert uses it "to create a smooth flow between
these modes, so that we hardly notice that we have passed from skirting the depths of the
unconscious to a level of conscious analysis" (20). Furthermore, according to Touponce,
the dialogue in Dune becomes ecological as "utterances derive most of their meaning
from the social contexts of communication in which they are produced and from
paralinguistics," "all the pauses, grunts, sighs, facial and body movements that, it turns
out, always convey exactly what we are really aiming at and are always received and (at
least for most people) unconsciously understood" (21).
Miller, O'Reilly, and Touponce use principles of ecology to elaborate on Dune's
political and structural elements. These critics are interested in and draw our attention
briefly to the workings of natural systems, but because they ignore the actual
manifestations of natural ecology and concepts of ecological literacy in the novel, their
work overlooks Dune's most pedagogically useful aspects. In emphasizing ecology only
as a metaphor for other systems-politics, economics, semantics, and so forth-the
principles of natural ecology merely become theoretical starting points for analyzing such
supposedly "deeper" issues.
If education in the twenty-first century must strive toward deep changes in the
ways in which we think about the environment, then ecological readings of texts must
start by asking not how ecology can be used as a metaphor for understanding previously
existing political, economic, and semantic systems, but, in Cheryll Glotfelty's words,
"How is nature represented in this sonnet?" "What role does the physical setting play in
the plot of this novel?" "Are the values expressed in this play consistent with ecological
wisdom?" (par. 2). To Glotfelty's list of questions, and in reference to Dune, I add,
"What worldviews does this novel show best support environmental sustainability?"
"What aspects of this novel contribute to our knowledge of and thinking about natural
systems?" "Does this novel anticipate deep challenges to the goal of environmental
sustainability?" Ultimately, ecologically focused literary analysis must hold natural
ecology as its primary interest and ecological literacy through thoughtful pedagogy as its
means for working toward a more sustainable future.
Indigenous Fremen and Stillsuits as Living Machines
To investigate what worldviews Dune shows best support environmental
sustainability and what aspects of Dune contribute to our knowledge of and thinking
about natural systems we may turn to the indigenous Fremen of Arrakis, the desert planet
that gives Dune its title, and to the stillsuits that help maintain them in near moistureless
conditions. In his book Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a
Postmodern World, David W. Orr asserts that any move toward ecological sustainability
must be "rooted as much in past practices, folkways, and traditions as in the creation of
new knowledge" (31). "Ecological sustainability," Orr continues,
will require a patient and systematic effort to restore and preserve
traditional knowledge of the land and its functions. This is knowledge of
specific places and their peculiar traits of soils, microclimate, wildlife, and
vegetation, as well as the history and the cultural practices that work in
each particular setting. Sustainability will not come primarily from
homogenized top-down approaches but from the careful adaptation of
people to particular places. This is as much a process of rediscovery as it
is of research. (33)
C.A. Bowers makes a similar observation: "Native American cultures, of course, had
evolved in ecologically responsive ways; but what could have been learned from their
thousands of years of experience in adapting to the unique characteristics of their habitat
was ignored because they were perceived as unenlightened and pre-modern" (11). The
focus here is on the necessity for modern technocratic societies to understand ecological
systems in the same way indigenous cultures do. Only in such understanding can we
achieve ecological sustainability.
Given Bowers's support of Native American indigenous knowledge, it is
interesting that Dune's own indigenous culture, the Fremen, have been compared to the
Apache and to other natives of the North American Southwest. The Fremen possess a
"superb knowledge of their environment" and "a kind of earth-wisdom" that allows them
to live with the hostilities of Arrakis's dry climate and carnivorous sandworms (O'Reilly
41, 42). As ecologically literate inhabitants of an arid ecosystem, the Fremen have
developed "the ability to sense even the slightest change in the air's moisture" (Dune
301). In school, Fremen children chant "'Tree, grass, dune, wind, mountain, hill, fire,
lightning, rock, rocks, dust, sand, heat, shelter, heat, full, winter, cold, empty, erosion,
summer, cavern, day, tension, moon, night, caprock, slope, planting, binder,'"
demonstrating their indoctrination into an aboriginal society that lives in harmony with
nature rather than apart from it (336). Indeed, the Fremen are "dwellers"; they live well
in their place. Unlike the transient regimes that the Emperor places as administrators of
Arrakis and that merely need to know how to mine spice-the planet's one economic
resource-in order to reside there, the Fremen inhabit Arrakis.
Environmental thinkers distinguish dwellers, or inhabitants, from residents,
providing an ideal framework for discussing the ecological value of Dune's indigenous
Fremen culture as well as the environmentally disastrous paradigms of the novel's
politically and economically powerful characters. As Orr notes, "The inhabitant and a
particular habitat cannot be separated without doing violence to both. [ .] The
inhabitant and place mutually shape each other" (102). To dwell, as Ivan Illich defines it,
is "to inhabit one's own traces, to let daily life write the webs and knots of one's
biography into the landscape" (22). By contrast, "the resident is a temporary and rootless
occupant who mostly needs to know where the banks and stores are in order to plug in. [.
S.] To reside is to live as a transient and as a stranger to one's place" (Orr 102).
Because the Fremen are dwellers, Arrakis's desertscape has shaped their cultural
practices. Demonstrating this effectively, Herbert contrasts the cultural assumptions of
the foreign Atreides clan, who have recently moved to Arrakis from the water-rich planet
of Caladan, with those of the indigenous, ecologically literate Fremen. In one tense
scene, Stilgar, a Fremen leader, spits on Duke Leto Atreides's table:
The Fremen stared at the Duke, then slowly pulled aside his veil,
revealing a thin nose and full-lipped mouth in a glistening black beard.
Deliberately he bent over the end of the table, spat on its polished surface.
As the men around the table started to surge to their feet, Idaho's voice
boomed across the room: "Hold!"
Into the sudden charged stillness, Idaho said: "We thank you, Stilgar,
for the gift of your body's moisture. We accept it in the spirit with which
it is given." And Idaho spat on the table in front of the Duke. (92)
Duncan Idaho, one of the Duke's men, must then remind the Duke of the value of water,
and thus of saliva, on Arrakis. Similarly, the Fremen see crying-particularly crying at
the time of someone's death-differently than do the Atreides. In fact, when Paul
Atreides cries over the death of Jamis, a Fremen man he has just killed in a ritual battle,
the Fremen worship his gift of "'moisture to the dead'" (306). It is here, too, when Paul's
mother, Jessica, learns the value of water, as did his father in the spitting incident. And
indeed, as Leto and Jessica learn these deep connections between ecology and culture, so
While Fremen custom draws our attention to developing a cultural sense of place
within our own environments, it also raises questions about the fundamental ways in
which we view the individual/community relationship; for the Fremen are all members of
a community-oriented culture. Discussing the weaknesses of Enlightenment conceptions
of the individual as a free, autonomous self, Bowers suggests, "the current image of
individualism does not recognize the complex nature of tradition and the authority that it
has in people's lives. This is [. .] a critically important issue in any serious discussion of
the characteristics of an ecologically sustainable culture" (26). To think of the self as
autonomous, Bowers continues, "undermines the sense of being interdependent with the
larger social and biotic community" (27). If, as Bowers claims along with Gary Snyder,
life involves participation in ecological networks, then Dune's Fremen exemplify such an
ecologically literate worldview (27). They have evolved patterns of community in which
"the bond of water" binds individual members to the collective goals of the tribe. Dune
therefore insists that solidarity is an important component of ecologically literate
dwelling cultures, and thus of environmental sustainability.
Like the symbolic bond of water that joins the Fremen in a community, the
stillsuits they wear to conserve water in their bodies also attest to their ecological literacy.
Explaining the stillsuits, Liet-Kynes, Dune's important planetary ecologist, states, "'It's
basically a micro-sandwich-a high-efficiency filter and heat-exchange system. [ .]
The skin-contact layer's porous. Perspiration passes through it, having cooled the body .
. near-normal evaporation process. The next two layers [. .] include heat exchange
filaments and salt precipitators. Salt's reclaimed'" (109). Along with these functions, the
stillsuit processes urine and feces and reclaims most of the body's water for its Fremen
wearer to drink again, all with the energy-the "'pumping force'"-provided by body
movement (109). "'With a Fremen suit in good working order,'" Kynes insists, "'you
won't lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day'" (109). The stillsuits demonstrate
an awareness of conservation that characterizes ecologically literate, dwelling indigenous
cultures and that must emerge in technocratic cultures with a pressing need to adopt
environmentally sustainable practices. In this regard, the stillsuits act symbolically: as
the Fremen wear the suits to preserve water, which is very scarce on Arrakis, so must we
find appropriate "technologies" that will preserve rather than destroy the Earth's natural
While the publication of Dune precedes Nancy and John Todd's living machines
by twenty-two years, Fremen stillsuit technology anticipates the Todds' environmentally
sustainable water-purification systems. Though Herbert does not predict the emergence
of such a sustainable technology, with the Fremen stillsuits he builds a framework for
thinking about how we can live sustainably in the natural world. As the Todds describe
them, living machines are
self-contained networks of ecological systems powered by the sun and
designed to accomplish specific purposes. Frequently they are housed
inside greenhouse structures. Based on the precepts that waste is a
resource out of place and that nature handles every form of waste by
turning it into a resource, [living machines] imitate the purifying and
recycling abilities of natural aquatic ecosystems. (xvii)
The differences between living machines and stillsuits are obvious but basic: living
machines are greenhouses, stillsuits are apparel; living machines use aquatic systems and
organisms to purify water, stillsuits use micro-technology and body movements. But as
Dune can educate us about ecologically literate cultural practices and the value of
community for maintaining environmental sustainability, so can the novel help us look to
explore more sustainable technologies. Thus, stillsuits are living machines because they
are self-contained, relying on their enclosed systems to perform recycling and
purification. They also process the body's waste, as do living machines and as does
nature with waste in general. Most important, however, is that like the aspects of Dune
discussed so far, stillsuits represent an ecological paradigm. In this case, it is a paradigm
that stresses "ceaseless mutual causality and interdependence" between elements of
natural systems in an effort to reproduce those systems and thus conserve natural,
ecological integrity (Todd and Todd 8).
Herbert's representation of Fremen culture thus raises awareness of ecologically
literate cultural and technological practices. As dwellers, the Fremen do not make
traditional Cartesian distinctions between nature and culture, and therefore they evolve
customs and technologies that demonstrate interconnectedness with the natural
Interrogating Resident Paradigms
As dwelling, and the ecologically literate practices and technologies that come
with dwelling, is represented in Dune as the way of life for those who are
environmentally in-tune, so residing is represented as the routine of the ecologically
illiterate but politically powerful. The latter group demonstrates such contempt for the
former that we can easily discern Herbert's subtext: to live well in a place-to be
indigenous-opposes and thus disrupts the mechanisms of the residing powerful, who see
place only through an economic lens, in this case, through the promise of spice profits.
The Fremen are "marked down on no census of the Imperial Regate"; the Imperium does
not recognize their existence (5). In fact, the Emperor's thought about the Fremen
demonstrates this erasure of identity and being, while it also shows how the hegemony
views place not in terms of natural ecology but of economic class: "'. but what else is
one to expect of barbarians whose dearest dream is to live outside the ordered security of
the faufreluches?'" the Imperial system of place based on class distinctions (78, 501).
Herbert thus sets up a dichotomy between the powerful residents and the powerless
dwellers. Later I will address how the nature of this dichotomy and of binary thinking in
general dooms the ecological literacy of even the Fremen. Now, however, it is important
to interrogate the value that the Imperium and other groups place on residential thinking
and to demonstrate how such ecological illiteracy undermines ecological sustainability in
Dune and, by extension, in the world we live on.
To use an important example, it may be because residential visions of power
interfere with any interest Paul may develop in Arrakis as a dwelling that Paul gives in to
his visions of a violent, "holy 'green' war against the existing order" (Ellis 121). Early in
Dune, Thufir Hawat, Duke Leto Atreides's Mentat or "human computer," insists, "'A
place is only a place. [. .] And Arrakis is just another place,"' thereby instilling in Paul
a valueless sense of ecological place and dwelling (28). Furthermore, Paul admits he has
been studying the great desert storms of Arrakis, and Hawat again attempts to prevent
Paul from developing a connection to the planet:
"Those storms build up across six or seven thousand kilometers of
flatlands, feed on anything that can give them a push-coriolis force, other
storms, anything that has an ounce of energy in it. They can blow up to
seven hundred kilometers an hour, loaded with everything loose that's in
their way-sand, dust, everything. They can eat flesh off bones and etch
the bones to slivers." (28)
And like the Emperor, Hawat scorns Arrakis's Fremen, stating, "'There's little to tell
them from the folk of the graben and sink. They all wear those great flowing robes. And
they stink to heaven in any closed space. It's from those suits they wear-call them
'stillsuits'-that reclaim the body's own water'" (29). Ultimately, Hawat distances Paul
from any close connection to Arrakis as a place to dwell, and even from their ecologically
literate stillsuit technology. He teaches Paul to fear the harsh planet, and he admits to
himself the reason for doing so: "Perhaps I'm doing it, getting across to him the
importance of this planet as an enemy. It's madness to go in there i iilnhut that caution in
our minds" (29).
While Hawat miseducates Paul about Arrakis in order to instill in him the
defensive posture required of a future ruler entering the hostile world of capitalist politics
and economics, Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam makes Paul very
aware of Arrakis's natural ecology in order to make him a "'good ruler'" who,
presumably, knows how to reside on the planet while exploiting its Fremen and its spice
(30). The Reverend Mother tells Paul to "'learn his world's language, [.. .] the language
of the rocks and growing things, the language you don't hear just with your ears'" (30).
As critic Susan Stratton notes, Paul does "solve the mysteries of Arrakis ecology and
learn to fit into the corresponding culture of its indigenous people"; though he does so not
to become an inhabitant of the planet but to "accomplish his goal, which is to reclaim the
planet for the Atreides" after the rival House Harkonnen wrests power from Paul's father
(307). Paul's educators, Hawat and the Reverend Mother, condition him to be a resident
before he even steps on Arrakis. The former teaches him to dread the planet and to
despise its inhabitants; and indeed, when Paul sees a Fremen for the first time he thinks,
"Who is this creature?" (67). The Reverend Mother, on the other hand, tries to instill in
Paul a false sense of dwelling with the underlying purpose to make him a better, more
That the Fremen are dwellers and the Emperor, House Atreides, the Bene
Gesserit, and all others involved in the commercial exploitation of Arrakis are residents is
an important distinction. Such an observation gives more credence to Dune as a valuable
text about ecological literacy and environmental sustainability and not just as "an
important first step for a generation of SF readers who needed to learn the fundamentals
of ecology" (Stratton 313). R. J. Ellis argues that in Dune Herbert fails to "portray the
climatological blight upon Dune as being the product of [. .] profit-taking by the multi-
national, or rather multi-planetary corporation, CHOAM, which is encouraged to
preserve Dune as a barren desert, since it is there the spice is found" (119). Contrary to
Ellis's claim, and to Stratton's observation that "Dune does nothing to show us a way out
of the environmental crisis we face," Herbert's novel does take an active role in exploring
causes of and examining solutions to environmentally unsustainable practices (314). In
particular, if we look at Dune within the contexts of the inhabitant/resident dichotomy it
sets up-an observation that the book encourages and that would therefore not be an
imposition upon the text-we find that the novel favors the sense of place and
community maintained by the indigenous Fremen while it criticizes the resident attitudes
of power held by those involved in Arrakis's exploitation, attitudes that ultimately
infiltrate even the Fremen ways.
"Afflicted by a Hero": The Fremen Jihad as Social Trap
In Dune, Frank Herbert questions the sustainability of the powerful/powerless
binary that gives the ecological and political aspects of his novel its narrative force. The
Fremen are represented as powerless but admirable inhabitants of Arrakis, while House
Atreides, the Imperium, and House Harkonnen are represented as powerful residents.
Under the hegemonic nature of this binary, any attempt at Fremen revolution must, it
seems, involve a reckless reversal of extremes: if the Fremen want power, they must
adopt resident attitudes at the expense of their cultural connection to the land. Paul
Atreides becomes the source of this power and these attitudes. He plays in to his
mythical status as "Mahdi"-the messiah who will lead the Fremen to Paradise-to
instigate faith in a short-term fix to Arrakis's climatological problems and in a quick end
to the Imperial domination of the planet. The swift measures Paul promises replace the
long-term terraformation and slow revolution that Pardot Kynes, the first planetary
ecologist of Dune, advocated. As stated in Appendix I: The Ecology ofDune, Pardot
Kynes's work "continued: building, planting, digging, training the children," all going
toward the 350-year effort to turn Arrakis into a blue planet (483). "The course had been
set by this time," the appendix says; "the Ecological-Fremen were aimed along their way.
Liet-Kynes had only to watch and nudge and spy upon the Harkonnens ... until the day
his planet was afflicted by a Hero" (483).
Thus Paul, with his promise of an immediate end to Imperial rule and an
immediate consummation of Kynes's terraforming effort, destabilizes the indigenous
ways of Fremen culture. The original plan to change Arrakis, conceived by Pardot
Kynes, promoted by his son Liet, and adopted by the Fremen, is not a quick solution to
Arrakis's climatological blight. Describing the effort, Stilgar says, "'We change
[Arrakis] ... slowly but with certainty ... to make it fit for human life. Our generation
will not see it, nor our children nor our children's children nor the grandchildren of their
children but it will come'" (283). Important here is that this slow change constitutes
hope for an eventual Fremen political change as well as an ecological change, for making
Arrakis a water-rich planet will kill off the water-sensitive sandworms, which produce
the spice, and end political and economic interest in the planet.
That Herbert is most concerned with a more ecologically literate conception of
time best accounts for the narrative complexity of this political-ecological relationship:
immediate political revolt is often more violent than productive, just as urgent and
thoughtless means to exploit the natural environment often aggravate ecological stability
in the long run. That Herbert's concern is with ecologically and politically unsound
concepts of time also accounts for the anthropocentrism of the Fremen for wanting to
change a planet and exterminate a species. For, as will also be addressed later with Kim
Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, though science fiction authors often seem to encourage
the dialectic of Enlightenment and planetary domination-even by the "dwelling"
groups-their ecologically focused stories must frequently narrate human-initiated
ecological change in order to present a subtext that comments on some critical element of
ecological literacy. In Herbert's case, the Fremen terraformation of Arrakis offers a
compelling critique of modern views of power and immediate progress as opposed to
more sustainable, traditional concepts of thinking in the long term, concepts often seen by
modern cultures as primitive. The question in Dune is thus not about why the Fremen
want to change Arrakis or even about their human-centered desire to do so. Rather,
Dune's terraformation narrative raises questions about the time frames allowed for any
adaptation, political or ecological, to occur.
The narrative that describes Paul's religious manipulation of the Fremen to serve
his purpose to regain Atreides control of Arrakis acts to address what Herbert feels is a
deep challenge to environmental sustainability: social traps-in this case, the trap of
instant gratification. As David Orr quotes John G. Cross and Melvin J. Guyer, "'Social
traps draw their victims into certain patterns of behavior with promises of immediate
rewards and then confront them with consequences that the victims would rather avoid'"
(5). As promises of immediate gratification and the poor sense of time encouraged by
such promises have accelerated the environmental crisis, so does Paul's promise of
hastening the terraformation of Arrakis contribute to the Fremen crisis, the jihad.
Realizing the power he has as the Atreides' ducal heir, Paul plays in to the Fremen legend
of the Mahdi or "Lisan al-Gaib." To Kynes he states, "'You have a legend of the Lisan
al-Gaib here, the Voice from the Outer World, the one who will lead the Fremen to
Paradise'" (219). Though Kynes dismisses the legend as superstition, Paul imbeds
himself into it and becomes the messianic hero who vows to quicken the Fremen's
terraforming efforts and to free them from Imperial oppression.
The thoughts of Jessica, Paul's mother, make us aware that Paul is indeed playing
in to Fremen legend and the Fremen desire to change Arrakis in order to lure them into
the Atreides jihad. Crediting the Missionaria Protectiva-"the arm of the Bene Gesserit
order charged with sowing infectious superstitions on primitive worlds, thus opening
those regions to exploitation by the Bene Gesserit"-for imbedding the legend of the
Mahdi in Fremen culture, Jessica thinks, "These Fremen are beautifully prepared to
believe in us" (507, 277). She continues, "All of them [. .] an entire culture trained to
military order. What a priceless thing is here for an outcast Duke!" (280). Further,
Jessica thinks the Fremen "could be wielded like a sword to win back Paul's place for
him" (311). And finally, Jessica's reasoning demonstrates that Paul's manipulation of the
Fremen is grounded in promises of immediate change to Arrakis's climate: "Gathering
water, planting the dunes, changing their world slowly but surely i/we are no longer
enough [... .]. The little raids, the certain raids these are no longer enough now that
Paul and I have trained them. They feel their power. They want tofight" (388).
By drawing the Fremen into a pattern of behavior that contradicts the slow
political and ecological change they are used to as an ecologically literate culture, Paul's
promise of instant gratification becomes a social trap. Paul's drive to terraform Arrakis
within one generation leads the Fremen away from their original goals. As Leonard M.
Scigaj observes of Dune Messiah, the second book in the Dune series, the Fremen
Farok's "only personal motive for enlisting in the war [. .] is to realize his fantasy of
immersing himself in a real sea" (342). Perhaps the reason Farok believes he will see
Arrakis as a paradise within his lifetime, as opposed to expecting the change to come in
more than four generations, is Paul's speech in Dune: "'What's our goal' Paul asked.
'To unseat Rabban, the Harkonnen beast, and remake our world into a place where we
may raise our families in happiness amidst an abundance of water'" (414). That Paul
believes the living Fremen-"'we"' rather than "our future generations"-will raise their
families in such a paradise shows his short-term, dangerous concept of change.
Ultimately, Herbert questions the modern paradigms that associate immediate
progress with political power and slow evolution with primitivism and powerlessness.
The jihad happens because resident ideas of power and immediacy have infected the
powerless and deliberate Fremen. Under the hegemony of the powerful/powerless
binary, jihad replaces the Fremen's ecologically literate sense of time; and this results in
a bloody war and the use of nuclear weapons. Pardot Kynes's "ecological literacy"
finally becomes Dune's solution to the ravages of modern ways.
Ecological Literacy: A Paradigm for Change
So far, what makes Dune an appropriate text for the pedagogy of ecological
literacy is its presentation of indigenous cultural and technological practices, its
interrogation of resident ways of acting toward the environment, and its exploration of
modern concepts of time and change as social traps. Because Dune is science fiction
bordering on fantasy, its narrative relies on extravagant, mythical events and concepts.
These events and ideas, though, operate as metaphors for the issues presented above:
spitting becomes a component of the ecological literacy of a particular dwelling culture;
stillsuits represent ecologically literate methods of conservation and waste renewal; spice
mining becomes the capitalist and colonialist exploitation that threatens the natural
environment and dwelling cultures; and immediacy in terms of the ways in which
humans adapt to the natural world and achieve political ends becomes a social trap that
encourages dwelling cultures to adopt the ecologically unsound methods of modern
environmental and political exploitation.
It is important to summarize this discussion of Dune with one more of the novel's
manifestations of a deep concern with environmental sustainability-that is, Pardot
Kynes's concept of ecological literacy. In doing this, we again face the challenge of
justifying Kynes's seemingly anthropocentric desire to reshape Arrakis to, as admitted in
Appendix I: The Ecology ofDune, "fit it to man's needs"-a case of adapting the place
to the people rather than the people to the place (477). In addition to accounting for this
contradiction as showing Herbert's more specific concern with the ways in which
adapting to the environment occurs (i.e., hastily versus deliberately), Kynes's ecological
change of Arrakis points to another of Herbert's motives: the ecologist's construction of
an entire ecosystem serves to demonstrate the complexities of natural systems, which
need the interaction of many components to maintain healthy stability. Without this
construction of an ecosystem, readers would not learn the intricacies of ecological
systems. "Ephemerals [. .], then scotch broom, low lupine, vine eucalyptus [. .], dwarf
tamarisk, shore pine" all work together in the new Dune ecosystem, as do candelillaa,
saguaro, and bis-naga, the barrel cactus [. .] camel sage, onion grass, gobi feather grass,
wild alfalfa, burrow bush, sand verbena, evening primrose, incense bush, smoke tree,
creosote bush" (482). The animals needed in the system include "burrowing creatures to
open the soil and aerate it," "predators to keep them in check," "insects to fill the niches
these couldn't reach," and "the desert bat to keep watch on these" (482). Kynes's
ecological project, then, recognizes interrelatedness and is therefore, in Orr's words, "a
revolt from Cartesian logic, reductionism, and the fragmentation characteristic of modern
science" (37). While the human-centered "specter of terra (terror)forming," as Ernest J.
Yanarella calls it, may still haunt Dune, Herbert's message is clear if we see Kynes's
terraforming less as a narrative manifestation of the Enlightenment will-to-dominate
nature and more as an informative lesson on the interconnectedness inherent in healthy
ecological systems (225).
Kynes teaches the Fremen that "the highest function of ecology is the
understanding of consequences" (482). O'Reilly observes that Kynes's statement is
taken almost directly from ecologist Paul B. Sears (55). This definition of ecology is also
supported by biologist Garrett Hardin, who sees ecological literacy or "ecolacy" as the
ability to ask "And then what?" (25). And David Orr notes, "[ecological literacy] implies
the ability to think broadly, to know something of what is hitched to what" (87). Kynes's
declaration that an ecosystem is a system that can be destroyed merely if one of its
components is eliminated educates readers in the same way as do the assertions of the
abovementioned environmental thinkers. Kynes's ultimate motive-or rather Herbert's
ultimate motive for including the planetary ecologist in his novel-is to help develop in
readers a sense of the complexity of natural systems and of the fragility of these systems
when treated in ecologically illiterate manners. Thus a careful reading of Dune
encourages us to reevaluate ecologically unsustainable practices and to achieve more
advanced degrees of ecological literacy.
THE DEEP ECOLOGY OF ENVIRONMENTAL UTOPIA: ECOSOPHY, ECOTOPIA,
AND WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME
Among the most challenging but necessary steps for moving toward the
ecologically literate, dwelling-oriented culture that Frank Herbert's Dune calls for is to
deconstruct modern mechanistic and anthropocentric worldviews and to locate new
ecocentric paradigms. As physicist Fritjof Capra notes in his 1987 essay "Deep Ecology:
A New Paradigm," the destruction of the natural world involves a "crisis of perception [..
.] derived] from the fact that most of us and especially our large social institutions
subscribe to the concepts and values of an outdated worldview, which is inadequate for
dealing with the problems of our overpopulated, globally interconnected world" (19).
The worldview Capra sees as outdated and inadequate is the modem, Western one, which
includes the mechanistic and human-centered ideas of Galileo, Bacon, Newton, and
Descartes as well as the assumption that all economic growth "is good and that more
growth is always better" (23).
Capra, though, observes the emergence of a paradigm that effectively challenges
the perceptions that Western and Western-influenced societies have developed as a result
of anthropocentric and growth-centered modern thought: deep ecology, or ecosophy.
Deep ecology is "a holistic worldview," "an ecological worldview," a worldview that
"recognizes the intrinsic values of all living beings and views humans as just one
particular strand in the web of life" (Capra 20). In such recognition, deep ecology
encourages profound changes in our values, in how we view population, economic
growth, and biotic diversity; in how we live as communities; and in how we treat the
In this chapter, I demonstrate how two utopian science fiction novels of the
1970s-Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia (1975) and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of
Time (1976)-dramatize the changes in perception advocated by Capra, but more
specifically by Arne Naess and Gary Snyder, deep ecologists who published influential
tracts immediately prior to Callenbach's and Piercy's novels. Although I do not aim to
show that Callenbach and Piercy are deep ecologists, I do hope to elevate their science
fictional ecotopias as important texts for learning about and exploring the possibilities of
the fundamental changes deep ecologists encourage. Thus, I support Bill Devall and
George Sessions' vision of ecotopian possibility:
Creating ecotopian futures has practical value. It helps us articulate our
goals and presents an ideal which may never be completely realized but
which keeps us focused on the ideal. We can also compare our personal
actions and collective public decisions on specific issues with this goal. [.
.] [E]cotopian visions help us see the distance between what ought to be
and what is now reality in our technocratic-industrial society. (162)
Ecotopia chronicles the visit of New York Times-Post reporter William Weston to
Ecotopia, the area once comprising Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.
Ecotopia, "a perfect society, a new stage of humanity, in which the ideals of John Muir
and the Sierra Club have been realized," seceded from the United States twenty years
prior to Weston's visit, and Weston's job is to write a series of articles documenting the
practices of the nation's inhabitants (Crow 9). These practices include the development
of a "stable-state," anti-growth economy, a national goal to reduce population, and ritual
war games. Early in the text, William's newspaper articles-which, along with his
private diary, make up the novel-are openly critical of Ecotopian ways: their lack of
traffic and billboards is drab and isolating, their recycling is "an enormous expenditure of
personal effort," and their elimination of processed foods and putting certain foods on
"Bad Practice lists" is "a loophole that might house a large and rather totalitarian rat" (10,
18, 20-21). Despite the reporter's bias, later in the novel he admits in a journal entry that
his attitude toward the eco-friendly nation is changing: "the more closely I look at the
fabric ofEcotopian life, the more I am forced to admit its \neugith and its beauty" (103).
And though William's assignment is only supposed to last six weeks, he ultimately stays
in Ecotopia. In a letter to his editor he writes, "I've decided not to come back, Max.
You 'll understand why from the notebook. But thank you for sending me on this
assignment, when neither you nor I knew where it might lead. It led me home" (181).
A similar reevaluation of ecotopian life occurs in Marge Piercy's Woman on the
Edge of Time, as the book's main character, Connie Ramos, admits she wishes her young
daughter could grow up in Mattapoisett, the novel's ecotopia:
She will be strange, but she will be glad and strong and she will not be
afraid. She will have enough. She will have pride. She will love her own
brown skin and be loved for her strength and her good work. She will
walk in strength like a man and never sell her body and she will nurse her
babies like a woman and live in love like a garden, like that children's
house of many colors. People of the rainbow with its end fixed in earth, I
give her to you! (133)
Connie has reasons to wish such a fate for her daughter, for Connie has grown up in a
fast-paced New York City, has lived on the streets, has been beaten and mentally abused
by men, has had the one man she ever loved taken away from her by the prison system
and killed in a medical experiment, and during the course of the novel is forced into a
medical experiment while living in a mental institution. Despite the aversion Connie
should have toward existing social institutions, like William Weston she is reluctant to
accept the promises of ecotopia, of Mattapoisett. Her friend from Mattapoisett in the year
2137, Luciente, informs her of the fundamental changes that have occurred in the
alternative future; but Connie, living under the supremacy of modern technocratic
thought, can only doubt the viability of these changes. She questions the city's lack of
social hierarchy, of patriarchy, and of government. Connie's relationship with those
revolutionaries living in the ecotopian future, though, assists her on a journey to free
herself from the forces that have dominated her life for so long. In the end, while she
does not get to live in the future ecotopia, "she thought of Mattapoisett" as she revolts
against the hegemony (364).1
As novels that contrast the perceptions and actions of modem, Western culture
with those of ecotopian possibility, and that favor the latter, Ecotopia and Woman on the
Edge of Time explore the changes that deep ecologists support. In summarizing the
strategies for ecological sustainability promoted by Arne Naess, the Norwegian
environmental philosopher who coined the expression "deep ecology" in the early 1970s,
David E. Cooper writes, "Among the policies advocated by Naess are radical reduction of
the world's population, abandonment of the goal of economic growth in the developed
world, conservation of biotic diversity, living in small, simple, and self-reliant
communities, and-less specifically-a commitment 'to touch the Earth lightly'" (213).
Indeed, Callenbach's and Piercy's novels display similar commitments to these policies.
An analysis of each issue-the population problem, economic growth, conservation of
diversity, community living, and light living-will demonstrate how these two works of
1 Billie Maciunas sees Connie's revolt-poisoning four doctors with pesticide she stole from her brother-
as an act of violence, a poor course for implementing utopian changes (256). Importantly, though,
Connie's use of violence attests to the dominance of the patriarchal worldview to which she has been
indoctrinated all her life, and therefore to which she must succumb in order to undergo a personal
revolution. Piercy's controversial ending thus demonstrates her awareness that changing from modem
paradigms to utopian paradigms is a difficult task, as the hegemony will not respond to the diplomatic tools
utopian science fiction challenge traditional paradigms, advance ecologically literate and
thus sustainable worldviews and practices, and teach deep ecology.
The Population Problem
Both Arne Naess and Gary Snyder agree that taking steps to reduce world
population is central to achieving ecological sustainability. In his seminal 1973 essay
"The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary," Naess
sketches his concept of biospherical egalitarianism, which is a fundamental principle of
environmental movements wishing to go beyond mere "shallow" efforts to cut pollution
and resource depletion, efforts aimed to preserve "natural resources" for affluent nations
(151). Biospherical egalitarianism requires "a deep-seated respect, or even veneration,
for ways and forms of life" (151-152). Like all modes of egalitarianism, it eschews
modem hierarchies of being, instead observing "the equal right to live and blossom" for
all forms of life (152). Furthermore, biospherical egalitarianism "implies the
reinterpretation of the future-research variable, 'level of crowding,' so that general
mammalian crowding and loss of life-equality is taken seriously, not only human
crowding" (152). It is implicit in Naess's argument that species equality necessitates the
protection of appropriate life-space requirements for all organisms. And since life-space
for any one species is reduced as another species-including humans-overcrowds and
infiltrates, overpopulation violates egalitarian principles.
Because human overcrowding poses such a threat to the rights of other species,
Gary Snyder, in "Four Changes," suggests cutting the present world population-that of
1974-in half. His reasoning is similar to Naess's:
Position: Man is but a part of the fabric of life-dependent on the whole
fabric for his very existence. As the most highly developed tool-using
animal, he must recognize that the unknown evolutionary destinies of
other life forms are to be respected, and act as gentle stewards of the
earth's community of being.
Situation: There are now too many human beings, and the problem is
growing rapidly worse. It is potentially disastrous not only for the human
race but for most other life forms. (141-142)
Human population has increased by two billion since Snyder's plea, making population
reduction that much more important if we want to maintain the egalitarian ecological
values that deep ecologists advocate.2 The population problem can be addressed on the
social and political levels, Snyder believes, by convincing governments that human
overpopulation is a serious problem, by legalizing abortion and promoting sterilization,
by questioning and correcting cultural ways of thinking that press women to have
children, and by refusing to see a nation's growing population as a sign of a good
economy (142). On the level of community, Snyder endorses alternative marriage
structures, sharing "the pleasures of raising children widely, so that all need not directly
reproduce to enter into this basic human experience," limiting family size, adopting
children, and as Naess also encourages, developing "a reverence for other species" (142,
Reflecting the spirit of this deep ecological thinking, Ecotopia approaches the
human population problem in a similar manner to Naess and Snyder. As if guided by
Snyder's political concerns, "After secession, Ecotopians adopted a formal national goal
of a declining population" (67). One of the reasons Ecotopians want to reduce population
is to minimize pressure on other species, a move Naess supports. And in a seemingly
2 World population in 1974, the year of Snyder's writing, was approximately four billion. World
population reached six billion in 2000 (Orr, 50; Brown, 212).
direct reference to several of Gary Snyder's other solutions, Ecotopians begin their
efforts to reduce their population by legalizing and lowering the cost of abortion, by
universalizing female contraceptives, by associating life quality with a decentralized
society dispersed "into the countryside" rather than with population growth and economic
expansion, and by disintegrating the nuclear family (67-69). On this final point,
"Ecotopians still speak of 'families,' but they mean by that term a group of between five
and 20 people, some of them actually related and some not, who live together" (69-70).
Raising children is a shared duty in these "communal groups" (70).
The efforts to control population in Woman on the Edge of Time similarly reflect
the spirit of deep ecology. Though Mattapoisett's use of brooderss," in which babies are
grown in tanks, is more of a science fictional example of population control than
Ecotopia's political and social methods, it nevertheless represents a mode of
consciousness that values conscientious control over a society's population (95).
Analyzing science fiction texts as narrating critical changes in our society often uncovers
such strange examples of how to go about change; but since the nature of the genre is to
fictionalize speculative thought, examples like Mattapoisett's brooders-or Dune's
stillsuits-must be viewed as fictional representations of particular modes of
consciousness. Thus the brooders become not real possibilities but manifestations of a
particular brand of thinking, in this case, of deep ecological population paradigms.
Besides the brooders as a means of population control, the residents of Mattapoisett also
choose not to use their scientific expertise to find ways to prolong life. Addressing this
issue, Luciente admits, "'I think it comes down to the fact we're still reducing
population'" (269). Finally, similar to the communal groups of Ecotopia, and to the
community child raising Gary Snyder proposes, Mattapoisett's children are assigned
three "mothers," or nurturers, who can be male or female.3
Ecotopia and Woman on the Edge of Time thus serve the pedagogy of deep
ecology in that they present societies attempting to fulfill the movement's goal to reduce
population. The methods of the former are less fictional than those of Woman on the
Edge of Time, and in fact mirror Gary Snyder's viable proposals, while the latter novel
exploits the generic conventions of science fiction as it speculates on fantastic solutions
to the human population problem. Despite these differences, the novels both operate to
generate awareness of ecologically literate paradigms of population control, awareness
that deep ecology finds key to creating an ecologically sustainable world.
"Forward, into the past?": Deep Ecology and Stable-State Economy
As George Sessions, coauthor of Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered and
editor of Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of
the New Environmentalism notes in his preface to the latter volume,
Government leaders and economic elites in Industrial Growth Societies
continue to push for endless economic growth and development. [ .]
Third World countries are now entering global markets and trying to
become First World countries by destroying their ecosystems and wild
species as they emulate the industrial and consumer patterns of the
ecologically destructive unsustainable First World. (xx)
The mania surrounding economic growth and consumerism has indeed distressed the
world's ecosystems by encouraging a severe exceeding of natural thresholds. Earth
Policy Institute president Lester R. Brown writes, "Over the last half-century, the
sevenfold expansion of the global economy has pushed the demand on local ecosystems
3 As Barbara Drake summarizes, "What Piercy substitutes for the paired father and mother is a cooperative
of three 'Mothers' for each child. They may be male or female. They volunteer to 'Mother.' [. .] With
the mothers, the child becomes part of a loose familial group, co-mothers and others" (114).
beyond the sustainable yield in country after country" (79). Brown's specific concern is
with the growth economy's injurious effects on oceanic fisheries, forests, and rangelands.
Since economic growth is so responsible for violating the tenets of biospherical
egalitarianism, deep ecologists advocate fundamental changes in the ways in which
"developing" and industrial societies view such growth. Rather than valuing economic
expansion, deep ecologists-and the SF writers discussed here-look toward more
ecologically sustainable economic paradigms.
Arne Naess outlines several "lifestyle" changes necessary for restructuring a
growth mentality to an ecologically literate way of thinking about economy:
"Anticonsumerism and minimization of personal property"; "Endeavor to maintain and
increase sensitivity and appreciation of goods of which there is enough for all to enjoy";
"Absence or low degree of 'novophilia'-the love of what is new merely because it is
new. Cherishing old and well-worn things"; "the attempt to avoid a material standard of
living too much different from and higher than the needy"; and "Appreciation of
lifestyles which are universalizable, which are not blatantly impossible to sustain without
injustice toward fellow humans or other species" ("Deep Ecology and Lifestyle" 260).
All of these changes are central to deep ecology, for in encouraging less consumption,
common standards of living, and egalitarianism between and among species, they
advance life behaviors that reject practices of the modern growth economy and instead
work toward maintaining the world's ecosystems.
Like Naess, Gary Snyder hopes for changes in modern society's deep-seated,
unsustainable economic worldview. He, in fact, offers a very Thoreauvian maxim:
"True affluence is not needing anything" (146). This adage is a direct challenge to the
growth economy; and along with his assertion that "a continually 'growing economy' is
no longer healthy, but a Cancer," Snyder offers a potent critique of the myth of progress
(146). Rather than blindly valuing economic progress and accepting it without
considering its deleterious effect on ecosystems, Snyder supports an economy that
operates as a part of ecology, that handles production, distribution, and consumption
"with the same elegance and spareness one sees in nature" (146). Under Snyder, personal
possessions surrender to communal sharing, and the modern fascination with new age
technologies surrenders to a high esteem for the ways of old: "handicrafts, gardening,
home skills, mid-wifery, herbs-all the things that can make us independent, beautiful
and whole" (146). Both Ecotopia and Woman on the Edge of Time share similar, deep
In his first newspaper article on the subject of Ecotopia, William Weston displays
his growth-centered culture's fear of the utopian nation's anti-growth economy:
"Ecotopia still poses a nagging challenge to the underlying national philosophy of
America: ever-continuing progress, the fruit of industrialization for all, a rising Gross
National Product" (4). Weston sees Ecotopia's "stable-state" system as a "nagging
challenge" because "it means giving up any notions of progress. You just want to get to
that stable point and stay there, like a lump" (33). The language of these passages
suggests a deep-seated cultural faith in the myth of progress, while it censures economic
systems that see progress, industrialization, and a rising GNP as unnecessary and
What Weston fails to understand about Ecotopia's economic model is its
underlying motive to preserve the integrity of ecological systems and to fulfill the ethics
of ecological equality-in short, to respect the values of deep ecology. He does
communicate the Ecotopian point-of-view later, stating "humans were meant to take their
modest place in a seamless, stable-state web of living organisms, disturbing that web as
little as possible" and "People were to be happy not to the extent they dominated their
fellow creatures on the earth, but to the extent they lived in balance with them" (47-48).
But Weston's ensuing rhetoric reflects the attitudes of the growth-centered hegemony.
He analyzes Ecotopia's stable-state economy using the doctrines of the capitalist
system-a move that neglects the possibility of a new language and philosophy for the
stable-state-inevitably condemning the new system as hopeless. For if Weston's
readers believe, along with the Ecotopian economists who are "highly regarded in the
American nation," that Ecotopia cannot maintain a decent "standard of living" with its
twenty-hour work week, that Ecotopia's system cannot attract "capital," and that the
nation will suffer "financial collapse," then they will see Ecotopia's economic paradigm
shift as a failure even if it succeeds (48). Indeed, viewed within the context of capitalism,
the stable-state system will always fail. Ecotopia shares the concerns of deep ecology,
then, as it presents the fundamental challenges of moving from an ecologically
unsustainable but hegemonic and seemingly natural economic structure to one that
devalues economic expansion and works toward Snyder's true affluence. If individuals,
societies, and governments continue to see material growth as rational economic
behavior, then they cannot explore the possibilities of more ecologically sustainable
Such an ecologically sustainable system also exists in Marge Piercy's book, and
again, the system is one that someone indoctrinated into the capitalist myth of progress
would find distasteful and difficult to understand. Connie's expectations when first
traveling to Mattapoisett demonstrate her faith in a booming capitalist future: "Rocket
ships, skyscrapers into the stratosphere, an underground mole world miles deep, glass
domes over everything" (62). But, opening her eyes, she sees the village of a bucolic
past, prompting her to ask Luciente, "'You sure we went in the right direction? Into the
future?'" (62). Luciente assents, and Connie replies, "'Forward, into the past? Okay, it's
better to live in a green meadow than on 111th Street. But all this striving and struggling
to end up in the same old bind'" (64). This sentiment repeats William Weston's concern
that Ecotopia's stable-state is weak because it lacks "progress." Both protagonists reflect
the capitalist tendency to view pastoral ways of life as primitive, as barely supporting
even the impoverished. Like Ecotopia, Woman on the Edge of Time's contribution to the
conversations of deep ecology exists in its presentation of how ruling economic dogma
prevents its followers from envisioning the potentials of ecologically sustainable
economic systems. But if Callenbach and Piercy have positive messages, they are both
communicated by the facts that William Weston and Connie Ramos ultimately accept
these ecotopias as more viable and healthier places to exist.
Teaching "The relational, total-field image"
Besides encouraging a reduction of world population and a steady-state economy,
deep ecology-and Callenbach and Piercy-supports "the relational, total-field image,"
perceiving "Organisms as knots in the biospherical net or field of intrinsic relations"
(Naess, "The Shallow and the Deep" 151). Such thinking requires a fundamental change
in the way in which post-Enlightenment, Western societies view the world. Rather than
separating humans from the surrounding world-as higher up in an ontological hierarchy
or as actors upon a wealth of "natural resources"-deep ecologists promote an
epistemology that sees no disconnections between and among species, and even between
species and landscapes. In other words, and to borrow from Ame Naess, to divide A and
B changes the constitutions of both, thus A cannot be said to exist on its own, without B.
Ultimately, the total-field image parallels the inhabitant/resident dichotomy discussed
earlier in relation to Frank Herbert's Dune and its ecologically literate Fremen: to inhabit
is to consider the total field of intrinsic relations, to see the self and society as parts of the
natural environment; to reside is to sever this basic relationship, to surrender the self and
society to the ecologically illiterate paradigms of the modern world.
When Gary Snyder observes "Man is but a part of the fabric of life-dependent
on the whole fabric for his very existence," he displays his awareness of the total-field
image (141). In fact, in "Four Changes" he insists in different terms that the total-field
image is necessary for solving the population boom, limiting pollution and consumption,
and restraining the rapid and unsustainable growth of civilization. Indeed, to see the
intrinsic connections between the components of natural systems is also to understand the
harsh effects modem human civilization has imposed on the environment, because
alterations of ecosystems forced by destructive technologies, impulsive residential
development, rapid extraction of resources, and so forth, jeopardize the healthy, total-
field of those systems. Any pedagogy of ecological literacy must, then, approach total-
field epistemology at all levels.
Certainly, Callenbach's utopian society comprehends the importance of the
relational, total-field image. About the outdoor life ofEcotopian school children,
William Weston writes,
The experiences of the children are closely tied in with studies of plants,
animals and landscape. I have been impressed with the knowledge that
even young children have of such matters-a six-year-old can tell you all
about the 'ecological niches' of the creatures and plants he encounters in
his daily life. He will also know what roots and berries are edible, how to
use soap plant, how to carve a pot holder from a branch. (38-39)
Further, an Ecotopian ten-year-old knows "how hundreds of species of plants and
animals live, both around their schools and in the areas they explore on backpacking
expeditions" (130). Such knowledge, even in young children, would be taken for granted
in an ecologically sustainable society. Instead, American education takes for granted
conservative pedagogical models, which according to C.A. Bowers emphasize "the
recovery (and rediscovery) of the intellectual achievements of the past"; "moral and
spiritual growth; the ability to participate as an enfranchised citizen who bears both
freedoms and responsibilities; and the intellectual foundations and skills necessary for
earning a living" rather than the knowledge necessary to live with the environment (37-
38). Just as ignorant of ecology is the liberal model of education, which focuses on "the
progressive nature of social development," individualism, and rational, linear thinking
(Bowers 74-76). Perhaps William Weston writes "'ecological niches'" within quotation
marks because of his readers' unfamiliarity with the term. To be sure, their Western
education has not accounted for ecology in the same way the Ecotopians' has. In fact,
Ecotopian adults can be heard saying, "'Knowing yourself as an animal creature on the
earth, as we do. It can feel more comfortable than [Weston's] kind of life'" and "' We
don't think in terms of 'things, there's no such thing as a thing-there are only systems'"
(87-88). Ecotopia thus encourages pedagogical models that emphasize ecological
literacy and total-field thinking.
Like Ecotopia, Woman on the Edge of Time demonstrates an awareness of the
relational, total-field image through describing the children's education. Indeed, that
Mattapoisett's community gardens follow the principles of a sort of total-field
gardening-"tomato plants growing with rose bushes and onions, pansies and bean
plants"-attests to the ecological literacy of the town's residents (122). But, more
specifically, that the rite-of-passage for Mattapoisett's children to become full members
of the community involves their spending one week in the woods by themselves shows
that the ecotopian town views nature as community rather than as commodity. And this
latter distinction has roots in the total-field image. For if a society regards nature as an
intrinsic part of its being-enough, in fact, to make the woods central to its adulthood
rituals-then it has developed a clear, symbiotic relationship with the land. On the
contrary, if a society sees the land as a provider of valuable and infinite resources, then it
adheres to modem and unsustainable images of nature as commodity. Ultimately, by
making experience in nature a significant part of childhood education, Ecotopia and
Mattapoisett participate in the deep ecological desire to establish ecologically literate
ways of knowing and being.
Sustainability through Community and Autonomy
By now, the fundamental connections between all of the changes mentioned so far
should be apparent. Population cannot stabilize or drop without radical reevaluations of
the growth economy, and modem views of the growth economy cannot be adequately
challenged without also positioning curriculums around experiences that relate the total-
field image of ecology. Continuing, the total-field image cannot emerge in a current
society that has eroded the sense of community and bioregional autonomy so inherent in
dwelling cultures. As Ecotopia and Woman on the Edge of Time have so far provided
narrative models for addressing the paradigm shifts hoped for by deep ecologists, so can
these texts generate further awareness of more sustainable models of community and
Arne Naess sees as an ecological guideline the need to cultivate life in
community. Community ties, for the deep ecologist, go beyond mere social interaction,
though. A community, or a total ecological field, is a life system-even a form of life.
And because "The vulnerability of a form of life is roughly proportional to the weight of
influences from afar, from outside the local region in which that form has obtained an
ecological equilibrium," our current social and economic tendencies to import and export
commodities and ways of life disrupts the autonomous character of natural systems-the
system of the self included (Naess, "The Shallow and the Deep" 153). The results are
displaced individuals living in ecosystems destabilized as a result of external influences.
To solve this problem, Naess advocates decentralization, "efforts to strengthen local self-
government and material and mental self-sufficiency" (154).
Gary Snyder supports a similar move toward social and ecological autonomy:
"Division by natural and cultural boundaries rather than arbitrary political boundaries"
and "land-use being sensitive to the properties of each region" (147). Such bioregional
thought pervades contemporary discussions of ecological literacy and environmental
pedagogy. David Orr believes we must "Use locally available resources," "Rebuild local
and regional economies," and "Rebuild strong, participatory communities" in order to
achieve ecological sustainability (161). And on the subject of pedagogy, C.A. Bowers
advocates a bioregional curriculum, one which studies "the plants, animals, soils, sources
of water, economic and technological practices, and the community of memory that
encodes the collective wisdom about both past mistakes and sustainable practices" (175).
Collectively, what these environmental thinkers promote is a bioregional worldview that
is rooted in the strength of local community dynamics and the lessons of community
history, as well as in adopting life practices specific to local regions.
As Naess, Snyder, Orr, and Bowers theorize the strengths of community and
bioregional autonomy, so do Callenbach and Piercy speculate on these strengths in their
science-fiction narratives. Callenbach does so in three ways. First, all Ecotopian food,
energy, and building materials are locally harvested; and the nature of this practice is
such that local systems remain healthy and foreign systems remain untouched-at least
by the Ecotopians. Second, in terms of self, community, and bioregionality, William
Weston becomes aware of his disconnectedness from the community and from place. He
writes, "I'm beginning to see that to an Ecotopian, who always has a strong collective
base to return to, a place and the people of that place, my existence must seem
pathetically insecure" (138). When Weston states "I have never cried about it. But
maybe I should," Callenbach issues a compelling request for readers to reevaluate their
own disconnectedness and to envision life in community, with a strong sense of place
(138). Finally, Ecotopia participates in Naess's and Snyder's political calls to
decentralize the operations of local regions. Explaining the nation's move, Weston
writes, "the Ecotopians largely dismantled their national tax and spending system, and
local communities regained control over all basic life systems" (67). The change benefits
Ecotopian life in many ways: communities arrange their lives more deliberately,
population density drops, medical services improve, and previously threatened
Mattapoisett is also communally and regionally oriented, demonstrating the
ecological value of strong community and bioregional networks. Like Ecotopia, the
village is "ownfed," "'Self-sufficient as possible in proteins'" (64). Further, sense of
place matters to the inhabitants of Mattapoisett. As Jackrabbit, one of the town's
dwellers, says, "'A sense of land, of village and base and family. We're strongly
rooted'" (116). On this point, one might think Mattapoisett is Ecotopia, that had Marge
Piercy given Connie Ramos journal in which to write her reflections, she would have
written something similar to William Weston's lament about feeling displaced. Indeed,
Connie does wish her daughter could grow up in Mattapoisett. And as members of a
bioregion with limited resources, Mattapoisett's inhabitants "'see [themselves] as
partners with water, air, birds, fish, trees,'" a worldview advocated in Aldo Leopold's
land ethic, to be discussed in the next chapter (118).
Finally, one might say the ultimate goal for deep ecologists-the reason for
reducing population, slowing economic growth, adopting a total-field image, and
thinking in terms of bioregion-is, to borrow from Mathis Wackernagel and William
Rees, to limit humans' "ecological footprint." In Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing
Human Impact on the Earth, Wackernagel and Rees admit, "there is wide agreement that
the Earth's ecosystems cannot sustain current levels of economic and material
consumption" (1). Indeed, Naess and Snyder share this point. They, along with other
deep ecologists, hope to "cultivate an ecological consciousness" that will reverse the
growth and consumer tendencies of Western culture and thus lessen human influence on
the environment (Devall and Sessions ix).
Again, Ecotopia and Woman on the Edge of Time share deep ecological
sentiments on dwelling lightly. Certainly, these novels contribute to the deep ecological
desire to reduce human impact on the Earth. But, certain moments in each text attest to a
specific hope: to create a society whose cultural practices have a minimal impact on the
stability of ecosystems. Both Ecotopia and Mattapoisett are recycling societies, with the
latter composting and reusing everything-the attitude being that nothing can be thrown
away on a round world. Dwelling lightly in these ecotopias, though, goes beyond
recycling and into profound moral and philosophical principles. What matters most to
Ecotopians, according to William Weston, "is the aspiration to live in balance / ilh
nature, 'walk lightly on the land,' treat the earth as a mother" (32). With this moral
principle as the core paradigm of social practice-indeed, in direct challenge to the core
paradigm of Western society, which is to live in opposition to nature-Ecotopians
approach living with ecological sustainability and balance as their main objective.
As Ecotopia roots itself in practices that inherently challenge Western modes of
existence, of consumption and wastefulness, so does Mattapoisett. Critiquing the
Cartesian model of being, Bolivar, a key spokesperson for social opinion in Mattapoisett,
"I guess I see the original division of labor, that first dichotomy, as
enabling later divvies into haves and have-nots, powerful and powerless,
enjoyers and workers, rapists and victims. The patriarchal mind/body split
turned the body to machine and the rest of the universe into booty on
which the will could run rampant, using, discarding, destroying." (203)
Here, Bolivar sums up the critical, deconstructive stance of the ecotopian community.
Western models of being, which include the mind/body and man/nature split, have
disconnected us from the ecology within which we exist. The separation justifies
environmental exploitation; and instead of dwelling lightly, we reside unsustainably. As
a community that thinks critically about such fundamental ideas, Mattapoisett initiates a
thoroughgoing revision of Western dichotomies, electing to live in opposition to modern,
technocratic ways and thus in favor of "primitive" and more sustainable modes of
For all these reasons, Ecotopia and Woman on the Edge of Time serve the
pedagogy of ecological literacy. Individually, each text narrates the revisionary ideas of
deep ecology; and together, they demonstrate the value of ecotopian science fiction for
communicating and exploring the changes advocated by deep ecologists. Scholars of
Ecotopia have warned critics to be careful when considering the revisionary potential of
utopian narratives, but in the context of environmental education, it is vital to understand
these texts in terms of their contribution to ecological literacy and to the bibliography of
texts that make up the canon of environmental pedagogy.4 This is not to ignore their
weaknesses in narrative, in argument, or in the feasibility of their propositions. Rather, to
focus on these ecotopian texts and the ecological ideas they support is to generate
important questions about how we currently treat the Earth and crucial ideas about how
we should treat it.
4 See Naomi Jacobs, "Failures of the Imagination in Ecotopia," Extrapolation 38.4 (1997): 318-326; and
Heinz Tschachler, "Despotic Reason in Arcadia? Ernest Callenbach's Ecological Utopias," Science Fiction
Studies 11.3 (1984): 304-317.
KIM STANLEY ROBINSON' S MARS TRILOGY AND THE LEOPOLDIAN LAND
[. .] and as it yo-yoed back and forth it loomed before them in all its
immense potential: tabula rasa, blank slate. A blank red slate. Anything
was possible, anything could happen-in that sense they were, in just
these last few days, perfectly free. Free of the past, free of the future,
weightless in their own warm air, floating like spirits about to invest a
material world. (RedMars 85)
Set on barren Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy speculates what
paradigms the planet's fictional settlers will inscribe on the "blank red slate." Anything
is possible for the group of one hundred chosen to establish the first Martian colony.
Their sense of freedom from past political constraints and from future Terran political
regulation sets up the utopian potential of the new settlement. And Robinson uses all
1900-plus pages of his trilogy to illustrate the challenges of moving beyond a history
spawned on Earth and toward a future, Martian history generated by utopian social,
political, scientific, and ecological ideas.
The settlers' hopes are indeed utopian in the sense that utopia is, by definition,
always impossible and always existing nowhere. Before the group even lands on Mars,
"rival cliques" develop and arguments become "frequent, and vehement" (RedMars 73,
75). As Maya Katarina Toitovna, the settlement's leader of the Russian contingent,
reflects, "Interest groups, micropolitics-they really were fragmenting. One hundred
people only, and yet they were too large a community to cohere!" (76). These arguments
include Phyllis Boyle's defense of Christianity against John Boone's rational, scientific
logic; Arkady Bogdanov's insistence that the architecture of the settlement be redesigned
to suggest equality rather than hierarchy; and, more generally, the group's disagreements
over theirjob assignments once the Mars colony is established. In short, and to borrow
one of the many technological metaphors in RedMars, "the international nature of the
equipment meant that there were inevitable mismatches of size and function" (108).1
Though we may read the first few chapters of RedMars as fiction about the
unlikelihood of materializing utopian visions of new histories, new presents, and new
futures, Robinson is not sending the message that utopia is hopeless. Rather, as William
Dynes notes, "the Mars series evokes a utopian call for community: of wholeness within
the self, within interpersonal relationships, within political and economic entities, within
the species itself" (151). In fact, in an interview with Bud Foote, Robinson states,
"Utopia has to be rescued as a word, to mean 'working towards a more egalitarian
society, a global society.' Which means at every point defending it, going to the mat for
the term and for the concept of Utopia" (56). In defending utopia, Robinson's trilogy
focuses on the reasons our current paradigms make this brand of utopia difficult to
achieve and on the things we can do to move toward it more effectively. In other words,
Robinson uses his Mars trilogy not to advance a cynical view of humanity and of
humanity's inability to improve the conditions of life, but to show us the difficulties
inherent in any attempt to do so and to model ways of moving closer to an equal society.
Robinson's concerns include interpersonal relationships, intercultural
relationships, political ideologies, economic systems, and environmental issues. Each of
these concerns, as well as many others in the trilogy, merit scholarly attention. But my
focus in this chapter is on Robinson's interest in ecology, and more specifically on the
land ethic advance by the three books. I suggest that RedMars (1993), Green Mars
1 For more on the technological metaphors inRedMars, see Bud Foote, "Notes" 62.
(1994), and Blue Mars (1996) work together to envision a contemporary rendering of
Aldo Leopold's "Land Ethic," as defined in his 1949 book A Sand County Almanac. Kim
Stanley Robinson gives us a range of perspectives regarding the human relationship to
the land, from treating the land as an economic resource to leaving the land in its primal
state. By the end of Blue Mars, the final book in the trilogy, we realize that it is our
responsibility to synthesize the ecological and not-so-ecological viewpoints that
Robinson provides in order to construct a model for maintaining ecological sustainability
and an egalitarian relationship between all of nature's components-in short, to model
the land ethic of ecological utopia. In the broader context of this thesis, then, the Mars
trilogy contributes to the pedagogy of ecological literacy by defining and exploring the
land ethic, a crucial concept in the vocabulary of ecological literacy.
Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic
Leopold begins his discussion of the land ethic by defining ethic. Any ethic "has
its origin in the tendency of interdependent individuals or groups to evolve modes of co-
operation" (238). He refers to The Golden Rule and democracy as ethical systems that,
in the former case, "integrate the individual to society," and in the latter case, "integrate
social organization to the individual" (238). Noticing such tendencies between
individuals and between groups to evolve these modes of cooperation, Leopold then
questions the absence of the land in modem society's ethical paradigms. He complains
that while traditional ethics emphasize the obligations humans hold for each other, no
ethic as yet-in 1949-encourages principled cooperation with the land. By definition,
then, "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils,
waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land" (239).
To arrive at such an ethic involves fundamental changes in the way in which we
view the land, for "No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an
internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions" (246).
Among these changes, land can no longer be seen only for its economic value. "Land,
like Odysseus' slave-girls, is still property. The land-relation is still strictly economic,
entailing privileges but not obligations" (238). This still holds true over fifty years after
Leopold wrote it. For Leopold, even justifying conservation on economic grounds is a
bad idea, for "most members of the land community have no economic value" (246). So,
while it may be productive for saving economically useful species or landscapes,
justifying conservation on economic grounds still fails to change the utilitarian view of
the natural environment into the scientific and philosophical views that Leopold feels are
necessary to maintain ecological sustainability. An economic view of the environment
also does not consider the complexity of natural systems. Any attempt to govern ecology
based on its "use" value tends to overlook those "unusable" components that are essential
to the health of the whole system.
This leads to another fundamental change that Leopold advocates in his land
ethic; that is, to approach ecology with the aim of understanding the complexity of the
environment and what makes the environment healthy. Leopold's central image for
discussing a healthy environment is the pyramid, "a tangle of chains so complex as to
seem disorderly, yet the stability of the system proves it to be a highly organized
structure. Its functioning depends on the co-operation and competition of its diverse
parts" (252-253). Developing an understanding of this complexity-developing an
ecological consciousness-involves acknowledging that many human alterations of
ecological systems result in violent releases of the land's energy that destabilize the
environment and make it sick. And not only do the changes humans make to the land
often cause environmental problems, they also "[steer] the course of history," as Leopold
demonstrates by referring to the settlement of the Mississippi valley.2 For Leopold
scholar James I. McClintock, "History, whether in terms of losses or gains, is understood
as humans acting within, not outside or above nature" (30). To cultivate an ecological
consciousness, then, is to cultivate both a scientific understanding of the complexity of
land and to revision our histories, past and future, in terms of ecology.
Leopold's land ethic thus involves reworking paradigms of economics, education,
and history. Leopold wants to revision the land as valuable not as commodity but as
community. He wants to educate individuals about the complexity of the land and about
how human alterations of this complexity often infect the environment with instability.
Finally, he wants to examine the historical importance of the natural environment. At the
root of Leopold's land ethic-at the root of all these desired changes-is "The Outlook,"
the questioning of traditional paradigms that must lead to entirely new philosophies. We
must interrogate "the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic
citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe;
land the slave and servant versus land the collective organism" (260-261). Indeed, to
2 "Consider," Leopold states, "the settlement of the Mississippi valley. In the years following the
Revolution, three groups were contending for its control: the native Indian, the French and English traders,
and the American settlers. Historians wonder what would have happened if the English at Detroit had
thrown a little more weight into the Indian side of those tipsy scales which decided the outcome of the
colonial migration into the cane-lands of Kentucky. It is time now to ponder the fact that the cane-lands,
when subjected to the particular mixture of forces represented by the cow, plow, fire, and axe of the
pioneer, became bluegrass. What if the plant succession inherent in this dark and bloody ground had, under
the impact of those forces, given us some worthless sedge, shrub, or weed? Would Boone and Kenton have
held out? Would there have been any overflow into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri? Any Louisiana
Purchase? Any transcontinental union of new states? Any Civil War?" (241).
bring forth the land ethic-to become "biotic citizens" of "land the collective organism"
to the fullest extent possible in our times-we must first value the land "in the
philosophical sense," with "love, respect, and admiration" (261).
As McClintock notes in his book Nature 's Kindred Spirits, "Rhetorically,
Leopold manages to clothe his argument in language that blurs distinctions between
scientific, social, and spiritual realms, thus appealing to his audience's longed-for
reconciliation between science, social conduct, and spiritual belief' (35). At the heart of
McClintock's advocacy of Leopold's land ethic, then, is his realization that an ecological
consciousness bridges the gap between the is/ought problem, which places scientific
"facts" in opposition with social and religious values. McClintock asserts, "One need
not turn to mysticism and against science to defend a land ethic" (44). By the same
token, one need not turn to science and against mysticism to establish a better model of
environmental ethics. Rather, the land ethic involves a both/and view of the is/ought
problem. The land ethic is itself an ecological system involving scientific, economic,
social, and philosophical discourse, which only in dialog can bring about Leopold's
desired paradigm shift.
The Mars Trilogy and the Economically Based Land Relation
Turning now to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, I suggest that the books
involve a dialogue between different views of the land, a dialogue that Robinson asks us
to listen to and to synthesize into what is ultimately a Leopoldian land ethic. Just as
Dune narrates several tenets of ecological literacy, and Ecotopia and Woman on the Edge
of Time speculate changes advocated by deep ecologists, the Mars trilogy is a series that
dramatizes the changes Leopold promotes. Whether it is critiquing the economic view of
the land held by transnational and metanational corporations, demonstrating the
complexity of ecological systems, emphasizing the mystical side of the land ethic, or
contrasting and synthesizing opposing views of science, Robinson's books promote an
ecological consciousness and a view of the land as part of the community.
In an interview, Robinson says, "science fiction is an enjambment of facts and
values in a way that our culture desperately needs right now. The fact-value problem is
specifically relevant to today's world, because we have a culture that is making
developments and cultural changes without much regard for the underlying values that
are going to be thereby expressed" (53). Science fiction, for Robinson, is a literary genre
that allows readers to see the connections between science-based facts and the cultural
values expressed in fiction. This being the case, SF like the Mars trilogy is most
appropriate for taking on environmental issues, issues that involve conflicts of both facts
and values. What Robinson attempts in his three books, though, is not to make a case
either for a fact-based land ethic or for a value-based land-ethic, but to show how both
fact and value need to be parts of our ecological consciousness.
The subject through which Robinson explores the land ethic is the terraforming of
Mars, the alteration of the Martian surface to allow for life. By making terraformation
the focus of his fiction, Robinson directly confronts issues that apply to the Earth's
environment; for the alteration of environments is necessary for human civilization. In
terraforming Mars, as in terraformingg" Earth, though, there exist a range of perspectives
about the degree to which we should alter the land for human habitation. For Robinson,
this range includes contrasting economic and scientific models, mystical perceptions of
the environment, and dueling conceptions of the land-human relationship, all of which he
explores in the Mars books.
Like Aldo Leopold, Robinson spends much time implicating traditional economic
paradigms for disallowing a viable land ethic or land-human symbiosis. Though we learn
early in RedMars that the Mars settlement team of one hundred scientists has hopes of
beginning a small scientific research station, later, in the chapter entitled "The Crucible,"
we are introduced to the motives of those higher powers responsible for sending these
scientists: to terraform Mars rapidly. As UNOMA-the U.N. Office for Martian
Affairs-approves the terraformation of Mars, Earth's own environmental protection
policies break down as a previously protected Antarctica starts being mined and drilled
for its oil. The parallel between the terraforming of Mars and the treatment of Antarctica
is indeed deliberate on Robinson's part; for as an ecologically conscious science-fiction
writer he wants to suggest that as "'the last clean place on Earth is gone'" so the next
clean place, Mars, is becoming the victim of the same economic motives (251). To relate
terraforming Mars to the destruction of Antarctica is thus to foreshadow the ultimate
motive that UNOMA has for altering the planet-to mine its resources-and to suggest
the destructiveness of an economically based land relation.
By the end of "The Crucible" and through the early parts of the next chapter,
"Falling into History," then, we learn that the scientific motives of the first settlers have
succumbed to the capitalistic intentions of the bureaucracy. Though many of the first one
hundred are pleased with UNOMA's decision to support terraformation, it is the
subsequent intrusion of transnational corporate interests that instigates many of these
settlers to revolt later in RedMars. The first sign of this intrusion is when the German
millionaire and UNOMA bureaucrat Helmut Bronski violates the Mars treaty by allowing
Armscor, a transnational organization, to begin prospecting on Mars. As John Boone, the
settlement's symbolic father, observes the mining operations at Bradbury Point, which
are taking place for economic reasons, his thoughts suggest an environmentalist's distress
over a relationship to the land based solely on economic motives:
John shook his head. That afternoon they drove for an hour back to the
habitat, past raw pits and slag heaps, toward the distant plume of the
refineries on the other sides of the habitat mesa. He was used to seeing the
land torn up for building purposes, but this ... It was amazing what a few
hundred people could do. [. .] wreaking such havoc just to strip away
metals, destined for Earth's insatiable demand .... (277)
Though by this point in the book Mars has only recently been settled, the developing
industrial landscape already reflects the contaminated atmosphere of a world being torn
apart by greedy capitalists.
Robinson's reflections on the capitalist economy and its effects on the
environment do not end with John's observation of the Armscor mining project-the
"gold rush," as John later calls it (284). One of the most awful (in both senses of the
word) technologies created in RedMars is the space elevator, a thirty-seven-thousand
kilometer long elevator that allows the various ores being mined from Mars to be shipped
to Earth efficiently. As Phyllis Boyle, the primary visionary of the space elevator,
"It will also be possible to use the cable's rotation as a slingshot; objects
released from the ballast asteroid toward Earth will be using the power of
Mars's rotation as their push, and will have an energy-free high-speed
takeoff. It's a clean, efficient, extraordinarily cheap method, both for
lifting bulk into space and for accelerating it towards Earth. And given the
recent discoveries of strategic metals, which are becoming ever more
scarce on Earth, a cheap lift and push like this is literally invaluable. It
creates the possibility of an exchange that wasn't economically viable
before; it will be a critical component of the Martian economy, the
keystone of it industry." (306-307)3
3 In this passage, and elsewhere throughout RedMars and Green Mars, there is also an implicit critique of
Christianity; for Phyllis Boyle believes "'God gave us this planet to make in our image, to create a new
Important in Phyllis's defense of the proposed elevator is her argument for an
economically based land relation, one that Robinson, like Aldo Leopold and like Frank
Herbert in Dune, argues against. Though Phyllis promotes the elevator's cleanliness and
its low energy use, her assurance is odd after reading John's observation thirty pages
earlier of the "raw pits," "slag heaps," and "distant plume[s]" that litter the Martian
landscape and that are the results of the mining that Phyllis sees as key to the developing
Martian economy. Furthermore, Phyllis's promotion of the space elevator is even more
awkward if we consider her awareness that Earth's own supply of metals is dwindling.
Indeed, the economic view of the land lacks a land ethic. The philosophy of "Minimize
expenses, maximize profits" excludes both the expenses the land suffers and the non-
economic profits of maintaining a healthy ecosystem (442).
Eco-Economics: Toward a Land Ethic
Before expanding on how Robinson questions the economically based land
relation in the Mars trilogy, it is crucial to outline the counter-model of economics that
Robinson presents: eco-economics. Thought up by the biological team of Vladimir
Taneev and Marina Tokareva, eco-economics places value on individuals according to
their biological contributions to the ecosystem: "'Everyone should make their living, so
to speak, based on a calculation of their real contribution to the human ecology'" (298).
Though Vlad and Marina's eco-economics does not and cannot specifically consider the
land of Mars as part of the ecological community-for, the Martian surface is not yet
habitable in RedMars and the human community lives underneath large tents-it is the
ethic inherent in eco-economics that makes it applicable to developing an ecologically
Eden,'" while at the same time she becomes the foremost advocate of the space elevator and of the
capitalist intentions behind it (Red Mars 171).
literate worldview. Eco-economics posits, as Robert Markley notes, that "Restricting
consumption becomes a far more effective means to increase one's value to the system
than accelerating production because production invariably strains scarce resources"
(776). So, in imagining such a system, Vlad and Ursula envision a human-land
symbioses based on the ethical imperative to include land in the community.
Robinson thus establishes a tension between the capitalist view of land as an
economic resource and an ethical view of land as a part of the community. As one
component in the dialogue that ultimately leads to the land ethic of the Mars books, this
tension continues through the three books and is resolved in Blue Mars. In a distinctly
Leopoldian manner, Robinson shows how the rapid alterations of the Martian surface-
particularly the heating of the atmosphere and the subsequent melting of the ice in Mars's
thick permafrost layers-have caused environmental instability or sickness. The action at
the end of RedMars takes place among avalanches and floods, Leopold's "penalties of
violence" (255). Furthermore, as in RedMars, the environmental violence of Green
Mars is also prefaced by Phyllis's faith in an economically based land relation: "'All the
stockpiled metals from the last forty years are ready to enter the Terran market, and that's
going to stimulate the entire two-world economy unbelievably. We'll see more
production out of Earth now, and more investment here, more emigration too'" (183).
Soon after Phyllis says this, Sax Russell, a scientist whose view of the land becomes
central to the trilogy, reflects on the negative effects of the rapid changes to the Martian
environment: "Mass wasting was causing many landslides a day, and fatalities and
unexplained disappearances were not at all uncommon. Cross-country travel was
dangerous. Canyons and fresh craters were no longer safe places to locate a town, or
even to spend a night" (217). Here, Robinson again questions the economic view of the
land by drawing attention to Leopold's penalties of violence. In RedMars he describes
the polluted landscape and the effects of this economic contamination, and in Green Mars
he continues to show how the altered landscape has erupted with sickness and instability,
mostly the result of capitalist interference, of a faith in the growth economy critiqued also
in Ecotopia and stood on its head in Woman on the Edge of Time.
The eco-economic model of land relations becomes, for Robinson, the most
viable model for limiting the influence of capitalist institutions on the fragile Martian
environment. Having finally gained independence from Earth's metanational institutions,
the leaders of Mars in Blue Mars organize a congress to establish an official Martian
government. Because Mars is a completely new social, political, economic, and
environmental situation, it is difficult for these leaders to turn to historical models for
help in creating their political system. Despite all the possible conflicts inherent in trying
to form a new system, though, the issue that provokes the most debate is land-use, an
environmental concern. While much of this debate revolves around the terraforming of
Mars-the Red/Green debate-the debate over land-use also involves finding an ethical
economic system that stresses not the monetary value of the land, as does capitalism, but
the ethical importance of a land-based community. Phyllis defends capitalism in both
RedMars and Green Mars, and her sentiments are repeated in Blue Mars by another
At the end of the chapter entitled "A New Constitution," Antar claims that the
eco-economic model of the Martian economy "'is a radical and unprecedented intrusion
of government into business'" (141). Unconvinced, Vlad outlines the eco-economic
system, which provides the equal rights and self-rule that the hierarchical structure of
capitalism cannot. Environmentally, such a true democracy also requires a view of the
land that opposes capitalist paradigms. As Vlad states, "'the world is something we all
steward together'" (144). Important in the eco-economic model, then, is its synthesis of
socialist elements-workers owning the means of production and "'hiring capital rather
than the other way around," for example-with ecological elements (147). Stewardship
becomes everyone's responsibility, and environmental courts "'estimate the real and
complete environmental costs of economic activities, and help to coordinate plans that
impact the environment'" (146). Ultimately, the eco-economic model is voted in, and the
new Martian system thus addresses one of Leopold's paradoxes: man the conqueror
versus man the biotic citizen. Martian civilization becomes a biotic citizenry through a
new economic paradigm that values a land-human symbiosis.
Spiritual Aspects of the Land Ethic
Besides supporting a land-based economy, the Mars trilogy further becomes a
Leopoldian text by focusing on the religious aspects of environmental thinking. In this
sense, Robinson, like Leopold, approaches ecology at once through the social science of
political ideology and economics and through the more speculative world of myth. And
nowhere is Robinson's interest in the possibilities of mysticism more evident than in his
character Hiroko Ai, "the Japanese prodigy of biosphere design" (RedMars 32). As
Aldo Leopold asks for "an intense consciousness of land," so Hiroko Ai provides this
Saying things like, "'Mars will tell us what it wants and then we'll have to do it,'"
Hiroko is the most religious ecological thinker in the Mars books (RedMars 115).
Hiroko's "areophany" is "a kind of landscape religion, a consciousness of Mars as a
physical space suffused with kami, which was the spiritual energy or power that rested in
the land itself' (RedMars 229). As the critic William Dynes observes, "The focus of the
areophany is a celebration of interdependency with the planet rather than an exploitation
of it" (160). Hiroko's "i// dia\" encourages followers of the areophany to foster the
positive feelings of ecological connectedness by spreading life everywhere. Initiated into
this areophany, Michel Duval, a French psychologist, must eat dirt in a ritual with other
members of Hiroko's group. "'This is your initiation into the areophany, the celebration
of the body of Mars,'" Hiroko says to Michel during the ceremony, "'Welcome to it. We
worship this world. We intend to make a place for ourselves here, a place that is
beautiful in a new Martian way, a way never seen on Earth'" (RedMars 230). That
Hiroko's followers eat dirt is symbolic of the connection between humanity and land that
Green Mars opens with Hiroko teaching the first generation Martian children
about viriditas. On the beach with the children, she says,
"Look at the pattern this seashell makes. The dappled whorl, curving
inward to infinity. That's the shape of the universe itself. There's a
constant pressure, pushing toward pattern. A tendency in matter to evolve
into ever more complex forms. It's a kind of pattern gravity, a holy
greening power we call viriditas, and it is the driving force in the cosmos.
Life, you see. Like these sand fleas and limpets and krill-although these
krill in particular are dead, and helping the fleas. Like all of us. [. .] And
because we are alive, the universe must be said to be alive. We are its
consciousness as well as our own. We rise out of the cosmos and we see
its mesh of patterns, and it strikes us as beautiful. And that feeling is the
most important thing in all the universe." (9)
Thus, Hiroko becomes the environmental philosopher-educator of the Mars trilogy. Her
brand of education, though, is rooted not in political ideology, but in religion.4 She is a
4 Dynes rightly warns readers that Hiroko's areophany suffers from a "narrowness of vision" (160). To
develop Dynes's claim, Hiroko does present a dogmatic veneration for abstract values that is similar to the
philosopher whose ideas are necessary to prompt thoughts of Martian independence and
ultimately of ecological connectedness. Markley states, "it is the moral force of
[Hiroko's] lived-philosophy of viriditas that brings together the scattered groups of the
underground in a loose confederation and that eventually provides the rationale and moral
authority of independence" (784).
When Hiroko is forced to leave Sabishii, the capital city of the underground
groups who are organizing a revolution against the powerful corporate entities that run
Mars, she disappears for the rest of the trilogy, either slain with her closest followers or
else choosing voluntary exile. Her presence continues, though, in the form of mythology:
Sax Russell believes she rescues him from a cold death in Blue Mars, and her son Nirgal
hears rumors that she is in England, in Elysium, Mars, and somewhere in the Uranian
system. At the end of Blue Mars, we even experience a Hiroko sighting: "Down the
beach an old Asian woman was surf-fishing" (760). Accordingly, then, Hiroko's
mystical presence in the Mars books balances with Robinson's close attention to politics
and economics. If as McClintock notes, Aldo Leopold's "'The Land Ethic' essay
mythically combines philosophy, religion, science, and political ideology," then
Robinson's attention to political ideology and religion positions his trilogy as a
contemporary, science-fictional representation of the ideas Leopold advocated decades
Kakaze, a radical anti-terraforming group. While the parallel may seem extreme, it is significant that as the
Kakaze vehemently pursues Red ideology, Hiroko's group religiously pursues the areophany, frequently
escaping political involvement by isolating themselves in the Martian south. And indeed, Red ideology and
the areophany are both value-laden conceptual positions that disregard recursive modes of building a viable
land-human symbiosis. Nevertheless, as I will argue later, it is in a synthesis of the Mars trilogy's various
ecological paradigms that we construct the books' ultimate environmental message. So while we must be
critical of the areophany's negatives, we must focus on what its ideas contribute to ecological thought.
Synthesizing Conceptions of the Land-Human Relationship
Tracing the conflict between the economically based land relation and the eco-
economic model of economics in the Mars trilogy gives us insight into one aspect of the
land ethic that Robinson advocates: the need for conceiving an economic system that
encourages environmentally sustainable behavior. And Robinson's presentation of
Hiroko Ai as a mystical "Mother-Goddess of the Earth" with a deeply religious view of
the connections between land and human life contributes further to what is ultimately the
land ethic of the three books. The land ethic forwarded by Robinson's trilogy, though,
involves further concepts of ecology that the author sees as crucial to developing
ecological sustainability, namely, the ways in which we view our relationship to the land.
Robinson conceptualizes a viable model of this relationship throughout the trilogy by
establishing an extended debate between the philosophical "Red" worldview and the
scientific "Green" worldview.
The debate between the Reds and the Greens, addressed throughout the Mars
trilogy by pitting Ann Clayborne, a Red, against Sax Russell, a Green, begins as a debate
between advocates of pure science and advocates of applied science. Supporting the
former, Ann Clayborne wishes to study Mars in its primal form: "'There's as much land
on Mars as on Earth, with a unique geology and chemistry. The land has to be
thoroughly studied before we can start changing it'" (RedMars 39). Excited about the
prospects of applying science to the Martian surface in a vast terraforming effort, Sax
rebuts Ann's claim, saying, "'We'll change [the land] just by landing'" (40). With both
positions posited so early in RedMars, before we even know the ideological thrusts of
the trilogy, we can perhaps accept both Ann's and Sax's positions as scientific outlooks.
One simply wants to study Mars as a geologist would study rocks or plate tectonics; the
other wants to experiment with an entirely new environment to see what can be done to
make life there possible. As Bud Foote notes, "the appeals and the honesty and the
beauty of both sides are presented with skill and passion," making it difficult to side with
either attitude ("Notes" 61). And though Sax's support for terraforming-for using
science as a tool of change-may for some science fiction readers foreshadow a fate
similar to Victor Frankenstein's, it is at least qualified when Sax speculates that even
human presence on Mars will alter the landscape. Without such a thoughtful observation,
we may think that the terraforming effort is just as impulsive as Frankenstein's
Promethean effort to generate life in a stitched-up assemblage of human body parts.
Though the terraforming debate begins as a conflict between pure science and
applied science, it quickly turns into a philosophical debate that involves a conflict of
values. With Ann insisting that Mars "'is its own place'" and Sax insisting that the planet
is "'dead,'" the pure science/applied science debate develops into a contest between
philosophical worldviews (RedMars 40). Does Mars, or by extension the land, own
itself as an individual owns herself or himself in a democratic or eco-economic state? Or,
is Mars dead and valueless? Ann believes the former: the landscape has inherent beauty
and worth. She claims that Sax's interventionist science is "'just playing around'"; to
"'destroy a beautiful pure landscape'" is "'for nothing at all"' (177). Sax, on the other
hand, believes "'The beauty of Mars exists in the human mind'" (177). He reduces Mars
to "'a collection of atoms, no different than any other random speck of matter in the
universe'" (177). Indeed, the argument developing here involves a dichotomy between
value and fact that as yet, and for many more pages of the Mars trilogy, shows no hope of
resolution or of budding into some other worldview. Ann is ecocentric and deep
ecological in believing "'We are not lords of the universe. We are one small part of it"'
(179). Sax is anthropocentric in believing "'We are the consciousness of the universe"'
(178). Is a land ethic possible with such diametrically opposed beliefs? The rest of
Robinson's trilogy serves to answer this question by ultimately working toward a
Importantly, early in RedMars, before Robinson fleshes out the ensuing
Red/Green debate, he raises a question that must remain on our minds as we observe Ann
and Sax's ongoing argument: what is nature? While Robinson never attempts to define
nature, he does bring that question to our awareness. Asked what he thinks of the
Red/Green debate, Jirgen, a Swiss engineer, replies,
"Both sides say they are in favor of nature, of course. [. .] The reds say
that the Mars that is already here is nature. But it is not nature, because it
is dead. It is only rock. The greens tell this, and say they will bring nature
to Mars with their terraforming. But that is not nature either, that is only
culture. A garden, you know. An artwork. So neither way gets nature.
There isn't such a thing as nature possible on Mars." (258)
While Ann defines nature as the primal terrain before human alteration, and while Sax
insists that nature includes-in fact, relies on-humanity and the changes that humans
bring about, Jirgen refutes the former, because for him nature must not be "dead," and
the latter, because it is simply a definition of culture rather than nature. Can we accept
Jirgen's dismissals, though, and appraise Ann and Sax's contrasting views of nature as
simply definitions of other abstractions, death and culture, respectively? If we are
reading the Mars trilogy for the land ethic Kim Stanley Robinson puts forth-if we are
reading science fiction for the reasons Robinson wants us to read it, to reevaluate our
value systems-then we cannot dismiss any definition of nature promoted in the books.
This is why Robinson presents so many perspectives; and this is why Jirgen does not
contribute any more to the environmental dialog.5 His opinion that nature cannot exist on
Mars is final, and epistemological finality, for Robinson, leads us away from the
recursive processes that are always leading to new knowledge, and in this case, to new
definitions of nature and culture. Thus the end of Jirgen and the continuation of the
dialogue between Ann and Sax.
Very little else happens in RedMars to suggest an eventual synthesis between the
Red and Green worldviews. Instead, we begin to see an increasing fragmentation
between the Reds and the Greens as the Reds begin to sabotage Green attempts to
terraform the land. They disrupt the moholes-holes drilled deep into the Martian
lithosphere that bring the warmth of the planet's core to the surface; they knock warming
mirrors out of orbit; they damage nuclear reactors; and they impair the bioengineering
labs. In the process, the Reds risk killing others and themselves, all for their belief in the
fundamental rights of the land to remain unharmed by human intervention.
And just as unproductively radical, the Greens approach terraforming like the
transnational corporations approach mining-that is, putting no limits on their effort to
get what they want out of the land. John Boone talks to Ann about the terraforming
efforts: "' Sax and a lot of others used to talk about doing anything possible to terraform
as quick as possible-driving a bunch of asteroids directly into the planet, using
hydrogen bombs to try and start volcanoes-whatever it took! '" (252). Of the
terraforming efforts that do come to fruition, thousands of small windmill heaters are
dropped on the Martian surface to assist in warming the planet, and in these heaters Sax
puts a genetically engineered algae in an attempt to introduce biota to the surface. Sax, as
5 Both Carol Franko and William Dynes demonstrate the importance that Robinson attributes to dialogue
and to the synthesis of multiple perspectives in the Mars books.
the scientific leader of the terraforming effort, also redirects an ice asteroid into Martian
orbit, where it burns up and adds water to the atmosphere.
The key elements of the terraforming debate thus seem too radically divergent and
inflexible to promise an eventual synthesis. Sax's terraforming effort-the "Russell
program"-"plans to terraform the planet by all means possible, as fast as they could"
(169). This view lacks an ethic because, as Leopold would have it, science becomes the
sharpener of man's sword, of the desire to impose human knowledge on the world in
order to change it for human purposes that go beyond necessity. Sax does not see the
land as part of the community, but rather as an object to be molded to fit an already
existing human community. Likewise, Ann's "hands-off attitude" lacks an ethic; for in
its fervent defense of the land's natural right to remain in a primitive state, it excludes
humanity's inclusion in the biotic community, and in fact, sees humans as burdens to the
It is interesting to consider, here, the symbolic importance of an incident that
occurs at the end of RedMars. Driving with eight passengers to escape a massive flood
made possible by the Green terraforming efforts and Red sabotage of the mighty space
elevator, Ann is distracted by the spectacle of the Martian sky and gets the rover stuck on
a boulder. Frank Chalmers, the leader of the American settlement team, attempts to free
the car from the rock and dies in the effort. With this incident, Robinson suggests that
the Red and Green worldviews are in themselves inadequate ethical paradigms. The
flood that washes Frank away is the result of the careless effort to transform the Martian
surface as fast as possible. By the same token, and on a more symbolic level, Frank dies
because Ann gets stuck on a rock, something that as a Red geologist she loves so much
and would defend to the death.
While RedMars offers no evidence of a land ethic that places the land and
humans in a symbiotic relationship, Green Mars begins to present such a view. Though
this book does not fully propose a viable land ethic, it again uses Ann and Sax to
foreshadow what will eventually become the ecological perspective of the Mars trilogy.
But as RedMars ends with a land ethic yet to be established, so does Green Mars
begin with the same Red/Green tensions that pervade the earlier book. In fact, the
distance between Ann and Sax is further established early in Green Mars. Ann continues
her pure scientific studies of Martian geology or areology; and though she is hesitant to
identify herself with the Reds-by now an extremist group-she vows to join them after
observing "the planet [. .] melting under her feet. Disintegrated. Reduced to mush in
some Terran cartel's mining venture" (128). In this same chapter, "Long Runout," we
also find Sax pursuing what he believes in-the terraforming effort. He joins a biotech
company that is working to terraform Mars.
Having so strongly established Ann and Sax's differences, Robinson then brings
them together for what turns out to be a pivotal debate regarding the land ethic of the
trilogy. As in RedMars, Ann and Sax establish themselves as opposites when they admit
their respective support of pure science and applied science. Sax reflects on Ann's
position, identifying the ultimate conflict between him and Ann as one between divergent
land ethics: "He knew she believed in some kind of intrinsic worth for the mineral reality
of Mars; it was a version of what people called the land ethic, but without the land's
biota. A rock ethic, one might say. Ecology without life" (145). Vowing to protect her
"rock ethic," Ann declares that "'Red resistance'" will curtail Green attempts to terraform
Mars (147). Sax asks, "'what's the point of that, now?'" and Ann replies, "'Mars. Just
Mars. The place you've never known'" (147). It is this latter statement that Sax, and
readers of the Mars books, must consider when attempting to see the land ethic from
Ann's radical perspective; for Leopold's land ethic requires foremost that the land be
"known" a certain way, a way that the economically based land relation and applied
science often fail to see.
Sax begins to consider Ann's position as he studies the Martian surface and
develops his own sense of place and being within the Martian environment:
Looking down the wild cracked surface of the glacier, he found himself
thinking of [Ann]. Every little berg and crevasse stood out as if he still
had the 20x magnification on his faceplate, but with an infinite depth of
field-every tint of ivory and pink in the pocketed surfaces, every mirror
gleam of meltwater, the bumpy hillocks of the far horizon-everything
was, for the moment, surgically clear and focused. And it occurred to him
that this vision was not a matter of accident (the lensing of tears over his
cornea, for instance) but the result of a new and growing understanding of
the landscape. It was a kind of cognitive vision, and he could not help but
remember Ann saying angrily to him, Mars is the place you have never
Sax's vision of the landscape displays qualities that are indeed "red," or, more accurately,
ethical in the limited but admirable sense that Ann's vision is ethical. Its focus on the
details of the landscape demonstrates that Sax is becoming aware of Mars as more than a
scientific experiment. Sax's "new and growing understanding of the landscape,"
however, does not resolve the complicated conflict of ethics between him and Ann. For
immediately after Sax's seemingly pure scientific observation, he also begins to
understand the root cause of their conflict: "he was seeing a Mars he had never seen
before. But the transformation had come by focusing for a matter of weeks on just those
parts of the Martian landscape that Ann despised, the new life-forms" (190). The conflict
is thus one of paradigms, of Sax's valuing life and desiring an ethic that stewards this life,
and of Ann's valuing the primal landscape and desiring an ethic that preserves the
areology of the pre-colonial Mars. By themselves, neither of these paradigms is
conducive to a sustainable land-human ecology.
While Sax may be adopting elements of Ann's land-ethic-even admitting to
Ann, "'We should have waited before we started terraformingg]. A few decades of study
of the primal state'"-Ann has yet to accept Sax's views on the value of life (414). She
tries to commit suicide at the end of RedMars, and in Green Mars she admits she is no
longer taking the gerontological treatments that will significantly prolong her lifespan.
Additionally, as the second Martian revolution is underway at the close of Green Mars,
Ann sees the revolt "as a chance to wreck all terraforming efforts and to remove as many
cities and people as possible from the planet, by direct assault if necessary" (581). Ann's
"rock ethic" is admirable for its attention to the intrinsic worth of the landscape, but it
fails as a viable land ethic, because it does not propose to solve the problem of
maintaining a sustainable land-human symbiosis. Instead, it obscures any useful
discussion of sustainability by resorting to radical ideas, to killing off humans.
In terms of its contribution to the developing land ethic of the Mars trilogy, Green
Mars is thus a book about Sax Russell's ethical growth and Ann Claybome's ethical
stagnancy. Ann's contribution to our own thoughts about the land ethic goes beyond
simply showing the limits of ethical and epistemological inflexibility, though. She makes
a point about the historical effects of terraforming that draws our attention to Aldo
Leopold's thoughts on landscape and history. As Leopold calls attention to the plant
succession of Kentucky and speculates other possible historical scenarios growing from
other possible landscapes, so does Ann argue that terraforming Mars can only prevent the
planet from ever becoming independent of Terran hegemony and overpopulation-in
short, of ever supporting a successful revolution: "'When the surface is viable [.. .]
they'll be here by the billions. As long as we have to live in shelters, logistics will keep
the population in the millions. And that's the size it needs to be if you want a successful
revolution'" (363). Ann's observation, here, is wholly Leopoldian in that she sees the
changing landscape as intricately connected-ecologically connected-to the course of
political history; and it is this sort of perception that Leopold wants. "Is history taught in
this spirit?" Leopold asks; "It will be, once the concept of land as a community really
penetrates our intellectual life" (243).6
So though Ann seems to retard the trilogy's development of a viable land-human
relationship by refusing to see human life as part of the ecological community, her
steadfast attention to the importance of the landscape is instrumental in causing Sax, and
us as readers, to see the land in new ways. Her Red paradigms also influence the
congress at Dorsa Brevia, which drafts a temporary Martian constitution. Work point six
of the document states, "The Martian landscape itself has certain 'rights of place' which
must be honored. The goal of our environmental alterations should therefore be
6 Ann's contention stands in contrast to the earlier politico-scientific opinion of Arkady Bogdanov, who
claimed that terraforming Mars would usher in a new era of human freedom, rather than of increased
population and corporate control. As Arkady argues:
"We have come to Mars for good. We are going to make not only our homes and our
food, but also our water and the very air we breathe-all on a planet that has none of
these things. We can do this because we have technology to manipulate matter right
down to the molecular level. This is an extraordinary ability, think of it! And yet some
of us here can accept transforming the entire physical reality of this planet, without doing
a single thing to change our selves, or the way we live. [. ..] We must terraform not only
Mars, but ourselves." (Red Mars 89)
Here, as Yanarella notes, Arkady "sees in a terraformed Mars the possibility of a new beginning for the
anarchist dream of a decentralized, egalitarian society" (275). Ann's position emerges in Green Mars after
we understand the impossibility of Arkady's vision; thus her critical view of the landscape and political
minimalist and ecopoetic, reflecting the values of the areophany" (389). Though
terraforming will go on, point six does reflect back on Ann's declaration early in Red
Mars that the planet "'is its own place,"' and thus planetary changes will be subtle,
localized, and uninfluenced by heavy industry-hence the terms "ecopoetic" and "the
Blue Mars focuses on the dialogue that occurs between Ann and Sax that
ultimately leads to the land ethic of the Mars trilogy, and in the book's conclusion,
Robinson finally synthesizes Ann and Sax's conflicting ethical paradigms. The novel
begins with Ann speaking to a group of young, Mars-born Reds about continuing to fight
for what they believe in: "to love Marsfor iielf' and to maintain the struggle for
complete independence from Earth (4). But as in Green Mars, Ann's deep-seated belief
in the intrinsic worth of the planet causes her to undervalue humanity: "though her
bloodshot eyes were still fixed, gazing through [the youths] at the rocky battered expanse
of the Tyrrhena massif, she was smiling" (4). Here, though Ann has become a leader and
an educator, her ethic still disallows her from seeing the value of life; for, she looks
through even her students and out into the rock that she values so much.
Robinson continues to elaborate on Ann's "redness"-her appreciation of
biological life over biological life, her pure science, and the political role she must adopt
in order to curtail the terraforming effort. Ann's paradigms are tested, though, as
"redness" actually begins to manifest the radical disregard for life that Ann has so far
seemed to advocate. Ann claims to have nothing in common with the Red Kakaze-"a
cult," "religious fanatics," "some kind of rock-worshiping sect"-but as the Kakaze
history is more valid. Nevertheless, both Ann and Arkady's visions are grounded in a Leopoldian
awareness of the landscape as a key influence on human culture.
admit to wanting to bring down a space elevator, and even to risk a civil war with the
Greens, we can only feel that Ann's desire in Green Mars to "remove as many cities and
people as possible from the planet, by direct assault if necessary" has served as the
ideological starting point for such a harsh disregard for life. Indeed, Ann is the founder
of this radical Red movement, whether she likes it or not.
Thus Ann's will to defend what she sees as the land is challenged from within her
own movement. As Kasei and Dao, the leaders of the Kakaze, make a reality out of the
ideology she advocates, Ann tries to intervene. And while she couches her rhetoric in
terms that make it seem like her main concern with the Kakaze's revolutionary effort is
that it needs more time to be planned, we see that her ethical concerns are finally starting
to include human life: "'A direct assault was a bad idea [ .]. It worked in Burroughs,
but that was a different kind of situation. Here it failed. People who might have lived a
thousand years are dead. The cable wasn't worth that. We're going to go into hiding and
wait for our next chance, our next real chance'" (41). Kasei and Dao die, and Ann grows
weak-kneed as she thinks her son Peter, a Green, might also be dead. Confronting this
senseless violence, Ann finally begins to see the value of life and agrees to negotiate with
the Greens and with Sax. Ann promises Sax that she will help stop Red acts of sabotage
if he returns the favor by removing the soletta, a huge heating lens, from Martian orbit.
Though removing the soletta guarantees an ice age, Sax concurs. Red-Green compromise
is in the air, though a simple compromise is not Robinson's ultimate goal.
The land ethic of the Mars trilogy emerges as Ann and Sax move closer to a
romantic union, a union that involves not a compromise or a negotiation between the two
opposite individuals, but an "intermixture of red and green" (66). Indeed, it is primarily
Sax's initiative to achieve this intermixture early in Blue Mars that leads to a new ethical
paradigm for both parties. He desires that Ann see "the beauty of the new biosphere," to
"walk over the land, and let it speak for itself' (96). In this desire, Sax also wants to see
the land as Ann does. And he does:
The primal planet, in all its sublime glory, red and rust, still as death;
dead; altered through the years only by matter's chemical permutations,
the immense slow life of geophysics. It was an odd concept-abiological
life-but there it was, if one cared to see it, a kind of living, out there
spinning, moving through the stars that burned, moving through the
universe in its great systolic/diastolic movement, its one big breath, one
might say. (97)
That Sax's thoughts are so imbued with alternative concepts of life suggests a major
breakdown in the Red/Green opposition that has thus far pervaded the trilogy. Sax's
revelation can be expressed as a syllogism: If life can be biological, as Ann says and as
Sax is beginning to understand, and if to be Green is to value life, then to be Green
requires one to value those components of the land previously believed to be dead. The
Red/Green binary falls apart under this new reasoning, and indeed a new paradigm, an
But as Sax desires a new ethical paradigm, so does Ann. Her drive to revision the
Red's revolutionary methods-to avoid bloodshed-draws from Green values of
biological life. Certainly Ann still advocates preserving Mars's primal state, but her
increased political activism, her shift from advocate of radicalism to advocate of less
harmful revolutionary methods, suggests that she, like Sax, is developing a more viable
land-human symbiosis, one in which humanity also has inherent value. That Ann wants
"'to stain that green until it turns some other color,'" in fact, demonstrates her and Sax's
parallel intentions; for they are both searching for other colors, other conceptions of the
land-human relationship (272).
Though much of the remainder of Blue Mars is punctuated with moments where
both Ann and Sax seem to revert to their respective ethical positions, which attests to the
difficulty of synthesizing such opposing viewpoints, the conclusion presents a new ethic.
As Sax comes to believe that what is important is "Not nature, not culture: just Mars," he
finally breaks down the Red/Green, nature/culture opposition (679). In his revelation,
"Sax felt he had come over the years to love what Ann loved in Mars; and now he wanted
her to reciprocate, if possible" (680). Thus he seeks out Ann's company, and as in Green
Mars he apologizes to Ann for supporting rapid terraforming, which by now has created
blue oceans and green life on the formerly red, rocky planet: "'I made mistakes. [ .] I
didn't see the-the beauty until it was too late. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm
sorry'" (711). And as Sax apologizes and advocates a halt to further terraforming efforts,
Ann now imagines a future with human life that must be protected: "'Better to die
thinking that you're going to miss a golden age, than to go out thinking that you had
taken down your children's chances with you. That you'd left your descendants with all
kinds of toxic long-term debts'" (728).
Ann and Sax's romantic union represents a union between Red and Green ethical
positions that goes beyond mere compromise. Indeed, the new paradigm is a
combination of the two viewpoints, but it is a synthesized combination that ultimately
becomes, as Ann states, "'something entirely new'" (730). In the final chapter-in fact,
in the final paragraph of the trilogy-we are left with what ultimately becomes a key
component of the Mars trilogy's land ethic. Appropriately, we see this new "Blue" ethic
through Ann's eyes. Walking on the beach with a child, Ann reflects,
Nowhere on this world were people killing each other, nowhere were they
desperate for shelter or food, nowhere were they scared for their kids.
There was that to be said. The sand squeaked underfoot as she toed it.
She looked more closely: dark grains of basalt, mixed with minute
seashell fragments, and a variety of colorful pebbles, some of them no
doubt brecciated fragments of the Hellas impact itself. She lifted her eyes
to the hills west of the sea, black under the sun. The bones of things stuck
out everywhere. Waves broke in swift lines on the beach, and she walked
over the sand toward her friends, in the wind, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars,
on Mars, on Mars. (761)
This Blue ethic involves for Ann an appreciation of human life, intermixed with a strong
awareness of land. It allows Ann to reflect on the value of humanity while she also
reflects on the value of the environment that surrounds her. The Blue ethic thus
represents a symbiosis between humans and the land that moves beyond a Red/Green,
either/or binary. Instead, it places humanity and the land-the biological and the
abiological-together as necessary components of a living ecology.
Conclusion: Robinson's Land Ethic
Why does the Mars trilogy present a consistent revolt against capitalist
institutions? Why does eco-economics prevail over all other economic models presented
at the Martian congress? Why does Sax Russell continually apologize to Ann Clayborne
for moving too fast with his terraforming project? Why does Ann's vehement defense of
Red ideology lead to radical rebellions and several deaths? Why does Hiroko Ai's
ecological mysticism prove to be sound philosophically-as a human value-but
ineffective politically-as an apparent fact? These questions are best answered if we
consider the utopian motives of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books. As mentioned,
Robinson believes that utopia is a state that is always becoming, always potentially
present if we maintain ceaseless dialog and questioning. Thus, no one character or
ideology in Robinson's three books provides the most possible utopian vision. Only in
combination do the characters and ideas of the trilogy contribute to its utopian vision, or,
more specifically, its utopian ecological vision-its vision of the land ethic. And
contrary to what Ernest J. Yanarella has argued, this "polyphony of subject-positions"
does not act "as an authorial ruse to exonerate Robinson of the apparent responsibility for
choosing or determining the outcome of the terraforming controversy and the fate of the
Martian experiment" (280). Rather, it attests to Robinson's desire to move closer to
utopia by presenting us with a multi-positional issue and requiring us to become
responsible synthesizers of information, information that is without a doubt rich with
hints of Robinson's own ecological perspective.
In Robinson's utopia, then, capitalism falls to eco-economics because capitalism
refuses to change according to the nature of ecology. Sax apologizes to Ann because he
learns that the land does have value. Ann's radical ethic results in the loss of human life
because in the Mars trilogy's utopia-in Leopold's and Robinson's land ethic-neither
life nor land can be overlooked. It is necessary to strive for a land-human symbiosis, not
to sacrifice one for the sake of the other. And Hiroko Ai is at once philosophically
brilliant and politically anomalous because that conundrum solidifies Robinson's call to
pursue ecological utopia intellectually, without falling prey to unproductive abstractions.
The Mars trilogy, as a series more about the Earth than about Mars, requests that we
work toward developing a land ethic that places the environment and humans within the
same community. To do this, we must value land as much as life, and life as much as
land. In fact, to take this notion of a Blue ethic a step further into Hiroko's paradigm, we
must not draw traditional distinctions between life and land. Instead, it is crucial that we
shift our ontological paradigms to include the being of the land, to see community not in
anthropocentric terms, but as a complex ecology of ideas, of people, and of places.
According to J. Baird Callicott, "what [Leopold] wishes us to conclude is (i) that
we are members of a human community (now grown from the savage clan to the 'family
of Man,' and in reference to which we have evolved ethical limitations upon our
conduct), (ii) that we are also members of a biotic, or land, or ecological community, and
(iii) that accordingly, we should evolve or assume environmental ethical limitations upon
our conduct" (67). In the Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson wishes us to conclude
something similar. The utopia that he strives for through his science fiction places
political, religious, philosophical, and scientific ideas into a crucible. And as John Boone
becomes the "utopian social engineer" within RedMars by synthesizing the paradigms of
various settlement groups, so do we, as readers whose active participation is demanded
by the Mars books, become utopian engineers of ecological literacy by reaching into
Robinson's crucible and pulling out a fully synthesized vision of an eco-
economic/areophonic/Blue, and altogether Leopoldian, land ethic (Franko 61).
In his address to the North American Association for Environmental Educators at
the 1998 Sanibel Symposium held on Sanibel Island, Florida, David Orr insisted, "The
challenge of equipping students to participate in the building of a sustainable and decent
society is the fundamental challenge to educational institutions at all levels" (14). The
compilation in which Orr's address is published-Academic Planning in College and
University Environmental Programs: Proceedings of the 1998 Sanibel Symposium-
reflects this sentiment throughout, and indeed all educators concerned with
environmental sustainability also stress the importance of such ecological literacy. The
agenda of environmental education is to provide students with the knowledge necessary
to understand the relationships among themselves, their communities, and the natural
world, as well as to be aware of and act upon the psychological, social, political, and
economic systems that have threatened the health of ecological systems. Such a motive
is certainly a complex task involving a multi-disciplinary effort, but it is a task many
educators have accepted.
This thesis has acknowledged Orr's challenge, and it has done so through the
discipline of literary interpretation and through the pedagogy available to those who
interpret literature. My method has been hermeneutic and ecocritical-that is, I have
relied on textual interpretation to explore issues of ecology and environment in science
fiction. Though literary interpretation itself cannot directly initiate environmental
activism or changes in environmental policy, it can prompt such actions by uncovering
the critical stances of writers whose foci involve issues of ecology, and by generating the
knowledge necessary to stage further discussions of environmental issues in the public
The list of science fiction I have mentioned as texts that contribute to the
pedagogy of ecological literacy is limited, as is my list of ecological attitudes and
environmental philosophies. I have examined Dune and the concept of ecological
literacy, and have continued this look at ecological literacy by exploring Ecotopia and
Woman on the Edge of Time, the tenets of deep ecology, the Mars trilogy, and Leopold's
land ethic. Further studies could attend to Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish series,
particularly to The Left Hand ofDarkness, where Western dualisms are challenged, and
The Wordfor World is Forest, where demand for "resources" jeopardizes the health of a
planet and the integrity of a culture. Further, Gregory Benford's Timescape presents a
society threatened by a destabilized ecosystem and thus encourages a discussion about
the nature of stable ecosystems and about ways to assure that humans do not continue to
injure such ecosystems. Even books that present simulated nature and electronically
replicated environments, such as Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
and William Gibson's Neuromancer, raise issues about the human disconnection from
nature. Indeed, exploring the absence of nature in these speculative works can be
Deep ecology and the land ethic are not the only ideas currently circulating in
discussions of ecological literacy. The critical points ecofeminism raises about the
parallels between the exploitation of the female body and the exploitation of the Earth
deserve attention, perhaps in relation to Le Guin's work and to other SF texts that are
concerned with patriarchal oppression. Also, ecocomposition, a burgeoning movement in
academic environmentalism, moves away from literary interpretation and concerns itself
with "textual production and the environments that affect and are affected by the
production of discourse" (Dobrin and Weisser 24). Applied to science fiction,
ecocomposition can be invaluable for explorations not into what ecologically focused SF
writers are writing about-spice exploitation in Dune, for example-but into how these
writers use language to construct other worlds, all the while maintaining the sense that
the contemporary Earth is the environment producing their writing.
Thus, there are many SF and ecology connections still to be made. Hopefully,
though, this thesis has adequately introduced the critical potential for science fiction to
participate in ecological discourse and to communicate the various ideas of ecological
movements and environmental thinkers. As Le Guin writes,
Science fiction properly conceived, like all serious fiction, however funny,
is a way of trying to describe what is in fact going on, what people
actually do and feel, how people relate to everything else in this vast sack,
this belly of the universe, this womb of things to be and tomb of things
that were, this unending story. In it, as in all fiction, there is room enough
to keep even Man where he belongs, in his place in the scheme of things.
Science fiction does indeed describe what is going on here on Earth; it does indeed
explore the reality of the human relationship with the world to which we are intricately
connected. Bolstered by its generic obligation to provide readers with fantastic
speculations about other worlds or alternative social institutions, SF roams in territories
other genres cannot. Its strength in terms of ecological thinking is thus its ability to
speculate critically on environmental issues and, in doing so, to assist the pedagogy of
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Eric Otto graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in May 2000 with a
Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies-English. While studying there, he also worked as an
undergraduate teaching assistant to Peter Blaze Corcoran in FGCU's university-wide
colloquium on environmental sustainability. Currently, Eric is a graduate teaching
assistant and Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Florida, where he continues
his work in American literature and ecological literacy.