Stories create a sacred space that humans have always respected. And science fiction takes us one step further. It gives us the space to imagine what we could be, could do, could make. And sometimes these stories give us an all too real vision of what may yet come to be in our own world. In his new novel, The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson paints a picture of a global temperature that's been allowed to keep rising unchecked, and the harsh results of humanity's inaction. The novel "is about the next three decades," says Robinson.
Earth's climate system is replete with potential surprises, and the climate science community tends to be conservative when projecting future changes. The world also suffers from a creative deficit in imagining the human response to climate change – a deficit that fiction is well-suited to help alleviate. One focus of my research is on sea-level change, both in the past and in the future. In his new work of climate fiction, 'New York 2140,' author Kim Stanley Robinson supposes that climate scientists will be surprised by how quickly the world's ice sheets will shrink and sea levels will rise In his new work of climate fiction, 'New York 2140,' author Kim Stanley Robinson supposes that climate scientists like me will be surprised by how quickly the world's ice sheets will shrink and sea levels will rise. His novel explores how civilization might nonetheless muddle through to remake this reshaped world.
When last we checked in on Kim Stanley Robinson, the famed author and veteran oracle of the 22nd century was smashing the dreams of science fiction fans everywhere by explaining why it won't make sense for you to travel to the stars in generation ships. Now, several books later, Stan (as he's known) has made up for that disappointment with a more positive look ahead on our home planet -- one with a starring role for cryptocurrency that may look unlikely to us, but normal to you. The Ministry for the Future serves as a blueprint for how we can throw climate change into reverse and actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere over the next three decades. If we follow it, this blueprint could make your Earth no warmer than ours. If we don't, it could be almost as uninhabitable as Aurora, the abandoned planet in his cautionary interstellar tale.
In "The Ministry for the Future," published last year, the science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson imagines a course by which the world might arrive at a new sort of utopia, on the other side of the climate crisis: a "good Anthropocene." It's a hard road, and many dystopias are glimpsed along the way. The novel opens in a town in Uttar Pradesh, in northern India, as it is hit by a "wet-bulb" heat wave, in which high temperatures and humidity combine in a manner that makes it impossible for bodies to cool without air-conditioning. The scene is dreadful and vividly described, yet it stirred me less than what happens next: India abandons its apathy and half-measures, and becomes the first large country to truly revolutionize in order to meet the demands of the climate crisis. "Time for the long post-colonial subalternity to end," Robinson writes. "Time for India to step onto the world stage, as it had at the start of history, and demand a better world.
Earth could turn into a hothouse planet like Venus, with boiling oceans and acid rain, if humans don't curb irreversible climate change, physicist Stephen Hawking claimed in a recent interview. And huge "carbon excursions" have led to massive extinctions in the past -- such as the end-Permian extinction around 252 million years ago, when roughly 95 percent of sea life died out due to ocean acidification. By contrast, Earth's atmosphere is mostly molecular nitrogen and oxygen, with less than 0.04 percent coming from carbon dioxide, Robinson told Live Science in an email. Without a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere and the extra dose of solar radiation from the sun, only willful malice is likely to cause a runaway greenhouse scenario, said Kevin Zahnle, a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, who has analyzed runaway greenhouse projections for the planet.