If this summer hasn’t made you realise the urgency of the climate crisis, I’d recommend reading The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley-Robinson. A sci-fi eco-thriller which made it onto President Obama’s list of favourite reads, The Ministry for the Future is both a terrifying prediction of what the future will look like and hopeful tale of how we can avoid total extinction. I can empathise with the urge to look away but do read this book, your future depends on it.
The novel starts off with a devastating heatwave in India where thousands are killed. The nightmarish account of stifling heat, melting electric cables disabling air-conditioning systems and lakes with water warmer than body temperature are enough to make your skin crawl; even more so when we’ve just put behind us the hottest summer on record. This book might not be so sci-fi after all.
The novel then interweaves the stories of Frank, an American charity worker and the sole survivor the Indian heatwave, and Mary Murphy, an Irish ex-foreign minister who heads up a Zurich based UN body, the Ministry for the Future, which has been set up to protect future generations and find solutions to the mess we’re in.
An unsettling encounter between Frank and Mary makes her reassess her role. Stuck in a quagmire of politics and bureaucracy, Mary realises that despite her good intentions, her actions are not moving the needle on the climate crisis very much. More drastic action is needed.
Indeed, more drastic actions are starting to happen. Private planes are shot down by drones, heads of oil companies start to die in mysterious circumstances, container ships sink, banks’ computer systems fail. Welcome to the world of eco-terrorism.
Interspersed with these stories are chapters on economics, political systems, some crazy attempts of geo-engineering, economic history and ideas for systems change. Stanley-Robinson keeps these short, inviting us to see the solution to this crisis through the prism of alternative forms of societal structure.
It’s not an easy read this book. Besides the depressing topic matter, the theoretical and ideas chapters, require some focus. Some of them I’d like to re-read with the context of the whole book. I don’t feel qualified to judge how many of Stanley-Robinson’s ideas would fly, but they certain raise some very interesting points and offers some pretty revolutionary ideas. There’s hope in Stanley-Robinson’s thinking and that’s what makes this book inspiring and worthwhile to read.
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley-Robinson is published by And Other Stories, 592 pages.