Friday, June 11, 2021

Review: The Ministry for the Future

From The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson:
Everything was tan and beige and a brilliant, unbearable white. Ordinary town in Uttar Pradesh, 6 AM. He looked at his phone: 38 degrees. In Fahrenheit that was— he tapped— 103 degrees. Humidity about 35 percent. The combination was the thing. A few years ago it would have been among the hottest wet-bulb temperatures ever recorded. Now just a Wednesday morning.
Ministry for the Future

This is speculative fiction from the near future, when the world can no longer ignore global warming. Lots of things touched on here, from science to economics to government to terrorism, sometimes dramatized, sometimes just straight talk.

Grade: A-

"The Ministry for the Future" is science fiction, sure, but much of it reads as non-fiction, as documentary of the potential future. Call it speculative fiction. Its opening chapter is gripping. It describes a deadly heat wave in India in the near future, a heat wave that kills tens of millions of people in a week. It prompts all sorts of reaction around the world, including the formation of the Ministry for the Future, a UN agency tasked with representing the interest of future generations. Its appointed leader is Mary Murphy. The novel follows her around the world as she tries to get world leaders to do something, anything, about the existential threat of global warming.

The Ministry for the Future succeeds in getting the national banks of the world to jointly issue a "carbon coin." Like the US Fed's action of injecting cash into the economy by buying up bonds, the carbon coin works by giving cash in response to corporations or nations capturing carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere and oceans. There's a chapter here on exactly how that could really work.

Other actions are darker. Unidentified terrorists use swarms of drones to bring down dozens of passenger jets, pretty much killing the fossil-fuel-guzzling commercial airline industry in one day.

There are also geoengineering efforts. One pumps millions of gallons of water up from the bottom of glaciers in Antarctica. The water had been lubricating the slide of the glaciers into the ocean. With the water removed, the glaciers are stopped cold. Another effort sprays yellow dye on the newly thawed Arctic Ocean, causing it to reflect sunlight and keep from heating the ocean. Yet a third effort is rewilding, with a goal of setting aside a full half the earth's land surface for nature. Not just a series of great natural parks, but the parks and corridors connecting them to allow wildlife to migrate again, like they did before humans blocked their natural migratory paths.

There are 106 chapters in this novel, most of them short, with different narrators and focus and tone. As in the real world, there's no happy ending, or rather, there are no endings at all, because there's no end to history, no end to the challenges humans will face even if we eventually stop and even reverse the carbon buildup in the atmosphere. We win some, we lose some, we keep going. Mary Murphy muses that "We will keep going because there is no such thing as fate. Because we never really come to the end."

"The Ministry for the Future" is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library.

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