Green Futures: A cultural history of ecotopia from the Cold War to the present
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Green Futures tracks and examines the impact of the modern environmental movement on popular representations of the future. The project begins with an extended introduction reviewing the way current debates about peak oil, global warming, and various other worldwide ecological crises have largely gone unheard in recent theoretical works dealing with the decline of utopian thought and its likely effects on politics. In order to correct this tendency, subsequent chapters of the dissertation critically examine "green utopias" from the last five decades that imagine alternative, post-crisis economies organized around renewable energy sources and principles of sustainability. While pointing whenever possible to the achievements of these utopias, the chapters themselves focus mainly on identifying formal and/or ideological horizons in these texts—moments, in other words, when visions of the future encounter the pressures of historical circumstance. Chapters 1 and 2 analyze optimistic capitalist or market-based futures elaborated in various media since the early years of the Cold War. Works examined here include corporate exhibits at events like the 1964-65 New York World's Fair; periodicals like the counterculture's Whole Earth Catalog and its still popular offshoot, Wired magazine; and influential works of fiction and nonfiction by authors like Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly, and Stewart Brand. As I demonstrate, corporate utopianism of this kind has become increasingly influential in recent decades. Chapter 3, however, notes the limits of this influence by surveying the long line of Hollywood dystopias and disaster films released alongside these works, including films like The Towering InfernoTHX-1138Dark Cityand 2012 . Films of this sort offer welcome challenges to the projections of advertisers and experts; but as I argue, most are nevertheless unable or unwilling to posit coherent counter-visions worth fighting for. In Chapter 4, then, I examine texts that move beyond this impasse, either by advocating localist living arrangements, as in the works of James Howard Kunstler and Bill McKibben, or by imagining more radical socialist alternatives, like the ones featured in the ecotopian science fiction novels of Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula K. Le Guin. While none of these texts ought to be viewed as blueprints, I argue, they do indicate how current anxieties about resource depletion and environmental decline can function not just as an immovable obstacle to the left-wing tradition of utopian thought, but also as an opportunity for that tradition's eventual improvement and renewal.