“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.

“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”

Bill Gates

I just have to begin by expressing my admiration for Bill Gates. Which still feels strange – I grew up on “Micro$oft” jokes and the image of Gates as the corporate Big Brother, a la Apple’s 1984 ad. Watching him go from icon of capitalism to the world’s foremost philanthropist has been interesting, to say the least. As a relevant aside, I highly recommend the Netflix documentary on his life, it’s fascinating, and works well to provide context on where he’s coming from in writing this book.

The book itself does what it says on the tin: it ends with plans of action for preventing the sort of global climate disaster that we, as a species, have been gleefully sprinting towards ever since we realized those funky rocks we dug up would burn longer than the trees we were chopping down. And the plans aren’t just “buy an electric car and vote for green energy;” not only are there more action items than just that, there are plans for people depending on which hat they’re wearing. Sure, you the consumer can buy an electric car… but you the citizen can write your legislators, and you the employer can invest in R&D, and you the local government official can tweak building codes to allow for more efficient materials.

The first half, or more, of the book is an accounting of what’s driving climate change, and it’s a fascinating overview. Your first guess about the largest culprit, in broad categories, is probably wrong.

And in the middle, there’s a great deal of discussion of the technologies we’re going to need to get through this transition. As a life-long nerd, that was the part I enjoyed the most; as someone who’s very sold on the importance and utility of nuclear power, my absolute favorite moment was a throwaway reference to “we should be building nuclear-powered container ships.”1

Here at the end, where I usually say “I enjoyed this book, and I recommend it,” I’m still going to do that.2 But beyond enjoying the book, it feels like the single most important thing I’ve read… possibly ever. The pandemic is the definitive crisis of the last couple years; climate change is the definite crisis of this generation. Go read the book. Buy a copy, read it, and pass it along to someone else to read. Take notes, and follow the plans of action that’re applicable to you. Let’s go save the world.

  1. I may have set some kind of land-speed record going from “what the hell” to “that makes perfect sense.”
  2. It’s not that I like every book I read, it’s that, as a general rule, I don’t write reviews of the ones I don’t like. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.