January 1, 2022
Northern India is hit by a devastating heatwave. Frank, an aid worker from a remote village near Lucknow is trying to keep his neighbours hydrated with high humidity and heat. The water runs out. Water is scarce.In the tanks kept in his office. The generator-powered AC unit runs dry of fuel. The night is not easy for the elderly and children. People run to the nearest lake in desperate search of relief, but it is not enough. Frank is the only one who survives. Around 20 million die in a single week.
So it begins The Ministry for the Future The most recent science-fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. It is set in the near future, as the world’s bureaucrats fail to tackle the climate crisis. Disasters such as The big heatwave,Extreme reactions, as the event above is known, are triggered by extreme events. The Ministry for the Future is a new international climate body created by the United Nations. We are told this organisation is “charged with defending all living creatures present and future who cannot speak for themselves.” Crucially its mandate is to protect the right of all future persons to a livable planet.
The novel unfolds with more ideas, and experimental approaches toPolicy and technological innovationThis article suggests possible solutions to our climate emergency. Although it is possible to repurpose the material, it is one of the most exciting ideas. Technology that pumps oil from the groundTo extract the melted ice water below glaciers. It is then transported to the top where it freezes into thick sheets.
The strongest message, though, is that humanity’s current economic system has brought the environment to a tipping point and the only way to reverse our disastrous path is to fundamentally change our abusive relationship with the planet. This does not mean that we must immediately stop the overconsumption of natural resources and pollute the planet. It also means that we need to look at issues such as ensuring fair wages and a more equitable tax system. Treating refugees with compassion.
The author introduces ambitious, yet not totally ‘sci-fi’ ideas that could lead to such an overhaul. One example is the Idee of carbon coins – an alternative currency backed by the world’s central banks which is earned by sequestering carbon. It not only encourages traditional polluters like oil companies to keep their assets in place and invest in green technologies but it is also an incentive for them to sequester carbon. Blockchain technology backs this projectEach deposit is tracked and analyzed to help combat corruption and tax evasion. Countries, cities and even ordinary citizens are encouraged to green and rewild their land and the whole world works towards the ‘Half Earth’ goal, where over 50 percent of the planet is given over to nature and wildlife corridors – helping to restore the biosphere.
This optimistic novel does not include violence. Although it is the policy wonks, bureaucrats, who correct our current trajectory. Rehabilitation after environmental destructionTerrorists bring down passenger jets, causing industry collapse and killing super-wealthy coal plant owners with automated drone weapons. This is the kick-start that officials desperately needed.
The novel provides a realistic picture of the future, both the good and the ugly. We can avoid the worst by listening to its warnings, and taking a radical approach towards innovation.
Photo by Issy Bailey