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Review

“The Ministry for the Future”

Kim Stanley Robinson

I don’t know that I’ve ever read something this simultaneously terrifying and hopeful. And now, having read it, I want it to be required reading for anyone running for office, and possibly just everyone in general.

We are, without a doubt, in the midst of a global climate emergency. At this point, the amount of evidence against anthropogenic climate change is about tied with the amount of evidence for “gravity isn’t real, you just think you’re stuck to the ground.”1 Climate change is a fact, and one that nobody is scared enough about.

“The Ministry for the Future” is a retelling of the next 50 or so years. Aside from the horrific opening, a call to action for the characters more so than it is for the audience, it is immensely hopeful: it’s a timeline where the Paris Agreement came with slightly more enforcement mechanisms, which combined with that horrific opening event to give the world enough of a push to start cleaning up our collective mess.2 It’s hopeful because everything in it feels possible; there’s no deus ex machina, no “and then we invented cold fusion and everything was fine!” Every technological innovation in the book is entirely, utterly feasible, using the technologies we have access to right now.

But that’s also what makes it terrifying. It feels like reading a history book sent back from the good timeline. It feels like staring down fifty years of threading the needle, narrowly navigating between potential disasters on all sides.3 And we don’t feel like we’re particularly on the right path for that yet.

So, having read this book and loved it, my usual call to action: go read it.4 And then, having read it, go contact your representatives. And tell them, in no uncertain terms, that the world is on fire and they need to do something about it.5

  1. Anthropogenic, for those who aren’t Big Ol’ Nerds about this topic, means “caused by humans.”
  2. Proportionally, too: the US has to contribute a lot more cleanup than, say, Kenya, because the US has contributed a lot more to global carbon emissions than Kenya.
  3. To go for a pop culture reference, it feels like Doctor Strange holding up a single finger; ‘there’s one future where we win this.’
  4. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
  5. And, yes, make personal changes as well! Your individual choice to eat less meat, buy an EV (or better, bike/walk/public transit!), turn down the heat—that one change doesn’t make much of a difference, really. But if we all do, that’s a huge change; and for every person that starts that trend, that’s one more little bit of social pressure to everyone else to do it too.

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