Academia, climate change, and the future: an interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

Bryan Alexander
8 min readOct 29, 2021

Posted on October 29, 2021 by Bryan Alexander

How might the climate crisis unfold? What should academia do about it?

One year ago our online book club read Kim Stanley Robinson‘s recent novel about one way the next few decades could play out, The Ministry for the Future (2020). I emailed the author and the owners of that fan site to invite them to participate in our discussion. The site spread the word, and Stan was kind enough to read along and write back.

When we finished the reading I followed up to interview Robinson, creating questions based on our discussions, picking out topics which especially interested readers and myself. Once more, he was very generous, and answered each very fully, even while heading out to Glasgow for COP26.

Here is our exchange, edited only for formatting and to add some hyperlinks.

Bryan: We were curious about the role of China in this positive narrative. Do you see it basically playing a neoliberal role, akin to the US or European states? Or is there any possibility of it playing an alternative role, both domestically and through Belt and Road partners, like what Mann and Joel Wainwright dubbed “Climate Mao?”

KSR: I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows, including the Chinese. But when working on my novel Red Moon, which is partly about this, I began to think that it is maybe helpful to take them at their word when they talk about “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Also, that there may be something to the idea that the CCP [Communist Party of China] has broad public support from Chinese people, as shown in polls (maybe) — that the Chinese people are proud of China and feel they have proper political representation in the current system. Who knows what they are really saying to each other in their kitchens, certainly not me; and how many hold each view, granting that every possible view is probably held by some.

In the global context going forward, the only thing one can be sure of is that China is important and a big part of the problems and solutions, and maybe their alternative political system to the various Western systems is a useful variant to have, to run a kind of giant historical test of…

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Bryan Alexander

Futurist, speaker, writer, educator. Author of the FTTE report, UNIVERSITIES ON FIRE, and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.