The Fifth World


Ecotopian means:

  • nearly everyone in the Fifth World leads a long, happy, healthy, abundant, fulfilling, and meaningful life.
  • war, poverty, and tyranny very rarely (if ever) appear in the Fifth World — though jealousy and rivalry still do.
  • when problems arise, the people of the Fifth World have the means to solve them, finding their solutions in their relationships amongst themselves and with a more-than-human world.

When Thomas Moore minted the word “utopia,” he made a pun in Greek, combining “good place” (εὖτόπος) with “no place” (οὐτόπος). In the strictest sense of a truly perfect society, the Fifth World has no argument with that, but we also see the word used to describe any vision of a world better than the one we currently inhabit, even if they still have their problems. In this sense, we unabashedly assert its possibility. We wouldn’t call the Fifth World perfect, but war, disease, poverty, and tyranny have all but disappeared. People live longer, healthier, happier, more fulfilled and meaningful lives. They have their jealousies and rivalries, but they also have customs that help them deal with such problems. They don’t live in a perfect world — just a much better one.

Ernest Callenbach first used the term “ecotopia” as the title of his novel, referring to a particular type of utopia, one where society’s improvement springs from an improved relationship between humans and the rest of our more-than-human world. We sometimes describe the Fifth World as deep ecology’s answer to Star Trek. Where other utopian fiction dreams of a society that solves its problems with advanced technology or the author’s favorite political philosophy, the Fifth World focuses on big problems that humans solve by renewing ancient covenants with a more-than-human world. The Fifth World has problems — even problems too big for humanity to face alone. Luckily for us, we’ve never had to face it alone.

Utopia is the process of making a better world, the name for one path history can take, a dynamic, tumultuous, agonizing process, with no end. Struggle forever.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Pacific Edge