Government for the future
The irony was not lost on Kim Stanley Robinson as he flew into New Delhi just as northern India experienced a record-breaking heat wave this week, -- exactly like the protagonist in his 2020 climate fiction book The Ministry for the Future.
The first chapter of the book begins with an American aid worker named Frank in a small town in Uttar Pradesh in which everyone dies in a killer heat wave when the heat plus humidity ‘wet bulb’ temperature becomes unsurvivable.
The maximum temperature in the Indo-Gangetic plains already exceeds 45 Celsius with some regularity, but that is usually in late May – not in April. It is almost as if India is marking Robinson’s visit with a heatwave, albeit a lot less lethal than the one he describes in his book.
Still, if scientists are right about heat stress caused by the climate emergency, The Ministry for the Future may soon have to be relocated from the fiction section of book stores to the non-fiction shelves.
As the author of his previous Mars Trilogy in which humans establish colonies on the red planet, Robinson’s book predictably dwells on scientists and world governments relying on geo-engineering solutions to cool down an over-heating planet.
The Ministry for the Future, has a completely opposite take to the recent Netflix release Don’t Look Up about a planetary emergency. Here, the world comes together to set up a Ministry of the Future in Switzerland that is headed by a former foreign minister of Ireland named Mary Murphy who seems to be a cross between Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland.
In real life this week, the Indian heat wave is baking New Delhi even as a Buddhist American self-immolated himself at the steps of the US Congress building in Washington to protest the lack of action on climate change. It is a bit eerie that Robinson’s science fiction book has an eco-terrorist group that uses drones to down airliners to protest fossil fuel burning.
But despite its dystopian tone, The Ministry of the Future has an uplifting message throughout with snarky humour in the 106 chapters. But overall, there is optimism that humanity can come together to act when faced with climate oblivion.
The fiction comes closest to fact when dissecting the corporate greed that drives climate denial, petro-state profiteers stuck in the fossil age, or despots who want to cash in on the chaos.
Not to give it all away, but Mary Murphy eventually finds a way to coax the world’s central bankers to pay for decarbonisation and geo-engineering solutions like pumping water out of from underneath Antarctic glaciers, or dyeing the Arctic yellow to reflect solar radiation.
Robinson visited Nepal to trek to Everest Base Camp in the 1980’s and was inspired to write a collection of novellas titled Escape from Kathmandu.
This week he was in India to deliver a keynote at a climate change conference organised by the Dalai Lama, and admits: “In person, I am not as hopeful as I am in the book. I am terrified about mass extinction. I start with a mass casualty heatwave in India because I wanted to wake people up. I have tried to stick to the reality of the present, not something way into the future. But this is a work of utopian fiction.”
The Ministry for the Future: A Novel
Orbit Books, 2020
$ 20.10 on Amazon, 576 pages
ISBN 10 - 0316300136