From COP26 to The Ministry for the Future: Review of an Evening with Kim Stanley Robinson

Sci-fi legend Kim Stanley Robinson is on a mission to do everything he can to save the planet we call home, firstly by writing climate fiction novels and then by talking about them around the world.  The Ministry for the Future is perhaps his best effort yet to give us both the vision and the will to change course before we lose this precious gift of a living earth.  All his recent novels are aimed to awaken us to the dangers of our continued burning of fossil fuels, resulting in CO2 emissions that jeopardize the future of life on Earth. Stan knows that scientific facts and dire warnings don’t always move people – rather, humans learn best by stories! His fiction feels entirely plausible and so it captures our attention.

When writing The Ministry for the Future, Stan poured in all he knew about climate science, all he could imagine about how we might avoid the worst outcomes of climate change, and all he had come to understand about human nature into this vision of our near future. It rings true and brings the book to life. Stan’s story – which projects  us a mere 30 years into the future –  captures and alarms us, and also hopefully inspires action in his enthusiastic following around the world.  

Stan is happy to reach out to the public, so he readily agreed to join us for Fossil Free California’s webinar and Q&A “From COP26 to The Ministry for the Future: An Evening with Kim Stanley Robinson.” You can find the full recording on our YouTube channel.

At the event, Stan offered a reaction to the lack of action and cohesion at Glasgow, echoing the disappointment of many others. He chronicled the gap between the rich nations and the poor ones in terms of exhibit size and clout in negotiations. The consensus model is slow and ponderous, yet we have just 10 years to curb the carbon curve. Stan reported the parties agreed to a cumulative global temperature rise of not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 2.0, and they adopted language for the first time regarding the phase down of coal!  Various countries including the U.S. and China declared net zero ahead of the final date. Participating countries are just beginning to think of themselves as member states rather than nation states, which Stan suggests marks a critical cognitive and legal shift.

Cynthia Kaufman, our FFCA moderator, suggested that climate fiction helps us to imagine a possible path.  She asked whether Stan believes that the political/economic system that brought us to this point of environmental breakdown could also get us out.

Stan countered, “We have no choice.  It’s an unjust system, but we have no other.  We must take over the reins and make it work, even if it’s a freefall experiment!  We must also fight austerity. Furthermore, we have an obligation to be hopeful.  It’s as biological as fear and it’s essential now. We must hope!”

Stan’s comments addressed the idea of sabotage versus Bill McKibben’s non-violent resistance, with a preference for the latter. He doesn’t think we need to blow up planes or commit felony actions to draw attention to the climate crisis.  Many folks remarked that the most moving chapter of his newest novel listed the organizations composed of ordinary people working to reverse climate change.

Other topics covered included the realm of Bitcoin, which Stan claimed not to understand fully; and geoengineering efforts such as spraying seawater into the air above the Arctic to create clouds that might shield the ice and prevent melting.  Stan suggested that that form of geo-engineering might be useful. We may need to employ some carefully selected geo-engineering experiments to help us save our environment in the coming years.

As a writer and as a human being, Stan is entirely down to earth when it comes to climate action. He suggests: 1) Figuring out your personal carbon footprint and then working to reduce it; 2) Learning to grow food; 3) Doing political work locally or online; 4) and being outdoors as much as you can.

Finally, given that Stan has written a number of climate novels lately (not to mention his indefatigable energy), someone asked what he plans to write next. Last summer, he took a retreat to the Sierra Nevada mountains where he often hikes and backpacks. Watch for the resulting book that will be released in May 2022, The High Sierra: A Love Story.