Author Topic: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson  (Read 667 times)

MarciaB

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The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« on: December 30, 2022, 11:32:07 AM »
This is a work of fiction in the “cli fi” genre (climate science fiction). Here’s a Wikipedia article on it: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ministry_for_the_Future).

I loved this book! And there are sooooo many things to talk about within it, so I started jotting them down (into the three big sections below) – and would love to start smaller conversation threads about any/all of these. Have you read it? What grabs you?

Intriguing Ideas/Solutions or remedies (which may or may not be feasible):
   •  Do a Pinatubo” by releasing sulfur dioxide in aerosol form to deflect sunlight with the goal of reducing global temperatures by a degree or two for a couple of years.
   •  Pumping seawater up and spraying it onto ice sheets (on either pole) in order to reverse sea-level rise. A related idea was scaling down this type of operation to thousands of small solar-powered machines that would live permanently in the Arctic and pump/spray all summer every year.
   •   Stopping the sliding of glaciers into the sea (which speeds up their melting) by attempting to pump all the water out from underneath the glacier (which lubricates the slide) so that the glacier anchors onto bedrock and doesn’t move.
   •   Direct air capture of carbon on a massive scale.
   •   A global religion centered around the Earth
   •   Relocating huge amounts of seawater to large dry areas of the planet (the Sahara for instance) in order to mitigate sea-level rise.
   •   Staining the Arctic seawater yellow in order to prevent sunlight penetrating deep into the water.

Some concepts (can’t say as to whether these are accurate or not) and some vocabulary:
   •   To keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees we have a “budget” of only 500 more gigatons of fossil carbon that can be burned (about 40 gigatons burned per year at the start of the book). But there are 3,000 gigatons of fossil carbon in the ground that have been located (1/4 of them owned by corporations, ¾ owned by nations) worth about 2 trillion $US.
   •   The 2000 Watt Society (https://www.2000-watt-society.org/).
   •   Wet bulb temperatures (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet-bulb_temperature).
   •   Jevons Paradox – increases in efficiency in the use of a resource results in an overall increase in the use of that resource (thus eliminating the benefits of the efficiency) – (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox).
   •   Gini Coefficient – a measure of income inequality within a nation or social group. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient).
   •   The Carbon Coin – a cryptocurrency that is generated by the documented proof of storing carbon or leaving carbon assets in the ground. (https://mashable.com/feature/carbon-coin-climate-change-crypto).
   •   The Masque of the Red Death Syndrome (after the story by Edgar Allen Poe), where since the end is imminent and inevitable, there’s nothing left to do except party while you still can.
   •   The International 4 Per Thousand Initiative (https://4p1000.org/?lang=en.

Some fictional projections and fictional events in the book (which spans about 4 decades from maybe the 2030s to the 2070s):
   •   A heat wave so severe that it kills 20 million people in India.
   •   The Arctic Ocean’s ice cover would melt entirely away in the late summer of 2032.
   •   California would be carbon neutral by the 2040s or so. They would also have developed statewide measures to protect groundwater and refill their aquafers. And created large wildlife corridors, restored large swaths of oak forest and salmon runs.
   •   Ecoterrorism – in the book there were chapters that featured fleets of commercial fishing boats sunk in order to preserve the world’s ocean fisheries, “Crash Day” where 60 commercial jetliners were blown out of the sky to scare people away from air travel, Mad Cow disease cultured and introduced by drone dart into millions of cattle to both kill them and scare people away from beef and dairy altogether. Assassinations of major oil executives. And others (like a funny chapter about the attendees at Davos being rounded up and subjected to “reeducation” films about income inequality.)
   •   Rare earth mining operations using slave labor.
   •   A storm so prolonged and severe that the entire Los Angeles Basin floods, stranding 10 million people.
   •   A week-long heat wave in the US that led to wet bulb temperatures of 38 degrees, power outages, and several hundred thousand Americans dying in a single day.
   •   Huge wildlife corridors like the “Y2Y” (Yukon to Yellowstone) from Yellowstone to Yosemite, talk of “Y2T” (Yukon to Tierra del Fuego), and lots of smaller corridors branching off of these large routes.
   •   Buyouts of rural towns that relocate the rural population (while giving them a lifetime annuity) and raze the human infrastructure in order to rewild the land (part of the Half-Earth plan).
   •   Massive container ships (big polluters) broken into smaller ones that run on wind and solar. The giant ships were being sabotaged and sunk, so this was both an energy conserving move as well as a business survival tactic.
   •   A global Super Depression.
   •   World Citizenship and a Global Passport scheme for refugees.
   •   The global fertility rate would fall to less than replacement (which is about 2.1) and by the end of the 2070s be around 1.8 (and potentially keep falling lower as time went on). Thus the human population would stabilize and decrease (lots of talk about the optimum number of humans, 3 billion? 4 billion?).
   •   The Half-Earth Initiative being instituted by nations, after the book by E.O. Wilson which advocates for setting aside one half of the land mass in the world for animals (no humans allowed) - (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half-Earth).
   •   The global bird population (today at around 50 billion) would increase to 60 billion by the end of the book (as a result of various climate schemes improving life for them).


erp

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2023, 11:43:32 AM »
I also read Ministry for the Future this year! I think it might have been more of a slog for me, it was pretty dense and often left me pretty negative - although I did ultimately finish it more optimistic than I started.

I found the ecoterrorism subplots to be pretty compelling (although bad. Obviously, terrorism is bad.) - it seemed pretty prescient. It was especially interesting how the plot dovetailed with technological drivers which put greater power in the hands of individuals rather than nation-level actors.

There are some actual direct capture projects kicking around. Nothing anywhere near the scale that the book talks about, and they're met with a fair (and justified) amount of skepticism ... but it's actually a thing that's happening. I'm not able to weigh in on the plausibility of the glacial pumping strategies (but maybe next time some billionaire wants to blow a huge amount of money, they can look at that kind of expense rather than buying twitter :/)

I am pretty skeptical of the 'carbon coin' notion, but it was interesting to see a mostly plausible crypto application.

A couple items which stood out for me that I don't see on your list are:
  • bankers, particularly central bankers, have an outsized amount of influence on climate policy
  • international agencies are pretty crucial, even if they lack teeth (at first)
  • there's a lot of behind the scenes pressure/mysterious accidents/forcing which might be really significant
  • climate refugees are going to be a big, complicated global issue, and our current systems & culture are really not ready for that challenge

Thanks for sharing!

MarciaB

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2023, 10:24:21 AM »
I also read Ministry for the Future this year! I think it might have been more of a slog for me, it was pretty dense and often left me pretty negative - although I did ultimately finish it more optimistic than I started.

I found the ecoterrorism subplots to be pretty compelling (although bad. Obviously, terrorism is bad.) - it seemed pretty prescient. It was especially interesting how the plot dovetailed with technological drivers which put greater power in the hands of individuals rather than nation-level actors.

There are some actual direct capture projects kicking around. Nothing anywhere near the scale that the book talks about, and they're met with a fair (and justified) amount of skepticism ... but it's actually a thing that's happening. I'm not able to weigh in on the plausibility of the glacial pumping strategies (but maybe next time some billionaire wants to blow a huge amount of money, they can look at that kind of expense rather than buying twitter :/)

I am pretty skeptical of the 'carbon coin' notion, but it was interesting to see a mostly plausible crypto application.

A couple items which stood out for me that I don't see on your list are:
  • bankers, particularly central bankers, have an outsized amount of influence on climate policy
  • international agencies are pretty crucial, even if they lack teeth (at first)
  • there's a lot of behind the scenes pressure/mysterious accidents/forcing which might be really significant
  • climate refugees are going to be a big, complicated global issue, and our current systems & culture are really not ready for that challenge

Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for adding these concepts to the list! This book was so sweeping, hard to list them all.

You are so right that the climate refugees will be a major global issue as their numbers swell (it's already a thing, but predicted to get worse on an exponential scale). That will be continue to be horrifying to watch unfold.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2023, 10:25:57 AM by MarciaB »

Morning Glory

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2023, 02:23:11 PM »
Ha. Coincidentally I am about halfway through reading this book. I see it as a sort of hybrid fiction/nonfiction with the narrative  interspersed with essays every other chapter. Some of them are really interesting but I find myself wanting to see sources and I'm dismayed that there is no bibliography at the end. I know it's a work of fiction but I've seen historical novels and the like with bibliographies so it would fit well here. I am liking most of the essays and some of the side-character vignettes but the main narrative is not that compelling or page-turn-y. There was one chapter about blockchains or something that I would not have understood if it weren't for my previous reading on this blog/forum, so that's a mustachian win!

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2023, 09:58:56 AM »
Finished.  I think the clipper ships were my favorite part: how cool would it be to return to wind powered transport, with solar electricity for backup?

I also liked the idea of a user-owned social network to compete with existing for-profit ones. That would be really cool.

Chaplin

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2023, 11:13:29 AM »
Very good read! The author was interviewed shortly after it was released and given the weather events in 2021 he said his biggest mistake was setting it 10 years in the future instead of one or two. I think he also said he would have just left out the carbon coin idea now. I too love the vision of air travel by solar-powered airship, but I'd be even happier to see high-speed trains in North America (or even a return to what was available in the 1990's - I can't re-create the trips I did then because the bus and train connections have been even further reduced).

MarciaB

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2023, 09:46:02 AM »
Very good read! The author was interviewed shortly after it was released and given the weather events in 2021 he said his biggest mistake was setting it 10 years in the future instead of one or two. I think he also said he would have just left out the carbon coin idea now. I too love the vision of air travel by solar-powered airship, but I'd be even happier to see high-speed trains in North America (or even a return to what was available in the 1990's - I can't re-create the trips I did then because the bus and train connections have been even further reduced).

Seeing the rain events in California right now this seems prescient. There's not only the repeated storm systems bringing all that water and flooding, but lots of talk about how that water needs to be recharging the aquafers (and how the hell is that ever going to happen?!).

Chaplin

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2023, 10:14:46 AM »
Very good read! The author was interviewed shortly after it was released and given the weather events in 2021 he said his biggest mistake was setting it 10 years in the future instead of one or two. I think he also said he would have just left out the carbon coin idea now. I too love the vision of air travel by solar-powered airship, but I'd be even happier to see high-speed trains in North America (or even a return to what was available in the 1990's - I can't re-create the trips I did then because the bus and train connections have been even further reduced).

Seeing the rain events in California right now this seems prescient. There's not only the repeated storm systems bringing all that water and flooding, but lots of talk about how that water needs to be recharging the aquafers (and how the hell is that ever going to happen?!).

In 2021 British Columbia had a heatwave followed a few months later by a flood that made it look prescient to us. When I saw the rain stats for California recently it really seemed like he had nailed another prediction. What will be the next prediction that comes true?

clairebonk

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2023, 08:07:59 PM »
Thanks for starting this thread, MarciaB. I read the book last year and it totally blew my mind. The first chapter will haunt me forever. And, the chapter about how many species are dying and how long it will take for new ones to evolve. I find most of KSR books to be slow reads, the kind where you put the book down and think, just as much as you read. Which is different than a NYT best seller that one can breeze through on the beach.

Is there one of these concepts that Mustachians could work together to turn from fiction to reality? (Not terrorism- although it worked in the novel I agree with erp that terrorism is bad.) Are there Mustachian eco projects already in existence? In my town/neighborhood, consumption sustainability is popular but not actual sustainability.

If you liked this book, I highly recommend Aurora, 2312, and the Mars Trilogy (including The Martians).

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Re: The Ministry For The Future - Kim Stanley Robinson
« Reply #9 on: January 22, 2023, 08:36:15 PM »
Thanks for starting this thread, MarciaB. I read the book last year and it totally blew my mind. The first chapter will haunt me forever. And, the chapter about how many species are dying and how long it will take for new ones to evolve. I find most of KSR books to be slow reads, the kind where you put the book down and think, just as much as you read. Which is different than a NYT best seller that one can breeze through on the beach.

Is there one of these concepts that Mustachians could work together to turn from fiction to reality? (Not terrorism- although it worked in the novel I agree with erp that terrorism is bad.) Are there Mustachian eco projects already in existence? In my town/neighborhood, consumption sustainability is popular but not actual sustainability.

If you liked this book, I highly recommend Aurora, 2312, and the Mars Trilogy (including The Martians).

I don't know if you would call it a Mustachian Eco Project, but I'm involved in a few local groups that makes an effort to represent the anti-NIMBY positions at council meetings to speak in favour of multi-family housing developments and active transportation infrastructure.

KSR's "Science in the Capital" series was a good read at the time; I'm not sure how well it has held up since then. Politics has changed so much that it might seem quaint now.