Our Ministry for the Future reading: part 3
Today we continue with our reading of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future.
And welcome to all readers! Happy holidays to those who celebrate during the winter solstice.
With this post we start discussing the third part of the novel, chapters 51–68 (pp. 227–340). I’ll begin with a summary of the story so far, add some notes, then ask questions for discussion. At the end I’ll repeat the reading schedule and add any resources I’ve come across.
You can share your thoughts by writing comments at the end of this post. You can also contribute via social media — I’ll copy this post or a link for it to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Mastodon, and Medium. I can copy and link to your comments there in next week’s post. You can also respond through a podcast, video, web page… just be sure to let me know somehow.
Speaking of which, shout-outs to last week’s discussants Leslie A. Donovan, Steve Foerster, Chris Mayer, Sally Mudiamu, Doug Reilly, and Kevin Werbach. They touched on a great range of topics, from carbon coins and short time horizons to atomic power, central banks, international organization, as well as potential roles for higher education. These fine folks pointed out the US Federal Reserve making climate change moves (!!), one carbon coin, another carbon coin, and the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.
Beyond our blog, on his blog Tom Haymes offers a thoughtful post on climate change, scarcity, post-scarcity, and learning. (PS: Tom has a new book out with a great title — Learn at Your Own Risk — and even better content. Go grab some copies.)
Now, to dig in to this week’s reading!
“The thirties were the zombie years. Civilization had been killed but it kept walking the Earth, staggering towards some fate even worse than death.” (p.227)
In this section we advance further in time, through the 2030s, and the climate has gotten worse. CO2 levels hit 463 ppm (56). Climate terrorism ramps up, with coordinated drone strike on air travel downing aircraft and killing thousands, leading to a massive decline in flying, as well as a similar torpedo hit against container shipping and others upon power plants. The Children of Kali scare people out of eating beef by claiming to have introduced mad cow disease at scale (51) while oil executives are attacked (56). Another revolt hits Paris (55). Los Angeles floods (59). There are ten million climate refugees and both strikes and protests in many cities (60).
Meanwhile, most people are scrambling to respond. Indian states experiment with expanded direct democracy and large-scale solar power (52). Mary and the Ministry pressure energy companies to support pumping water from under the Antarctic ice shelf, while inventing a user-owned, blockchain-backed alternative to social media called YourLock (53–4, 60). Badim suggests the creation of a new religion (56). The south polar pumping project makes progress, albeit at a cost (57). Credit unions start to replace banks. Mary convinces the world’s central banks to back her carbon coin plan; China’s central bank head plays a key role in this.
The Ministry is bombed. Mary relocates to a mountaintop retreat with guards, but they are attacked there as well and shift to a Swiss military bunker, where they learn other international agencies and Swiss banks have been attacked by unknown assailants (60, 62–3).
Mary visits Frank in prison twice. We learn Frank is also the “Jake” we saw marrying into a refugee family last week.
More non-plot chapters occur, including one on how to end capitalism (64). There are two more very short riddle chapters on the photon (53) and the Earth (66). Further micro-stories crop up about characters we never see again, but who give us glimpses of ideas and the world in transition.
Social change: we see something of Janus Athena, who seeks to “efface gender, to exist in that very narrow in-between, the zone of actual gender unknowability.” (54; p.241)
Technological change: we remain where we were last week, in a slightly advanced version of our world, with airships, blockchain, and many drones.
I think the author just coined the term “Götterdämmerung syndrome.” It’s the subject of chapter 61:
The Götterdämmerung Syndrome, as with most violent pathologies, is more often seen in men than women. It is often interpreted as an example of narcissistic rage. Those who feel it are usually privileged and entitled, and they become extremely angry when their privileges and sense of entitlement are being taken away. If then their choice gets reduced to admitting they are in error or destroying the world, a reduction they often feel to be the case, the obvious choice for them is to destroy the world; for they cannot admit they have ever erred.
- On the theme of violence: did the terror attacks we’ve seen so far succeed in changing human behavior, reducing our carbon usage?
- What do you think of the novel’s weaving together of fiction and ideas so far?
- How plausible would widespread use of YourLock be?
- Badim’s new religion of climate change: what do you think that might look like?
- The book has been silent on academia so far. What role do you think colleges and universities could play in this world of the 2030s?
- Ministry staff offer this list of targets to attack for cutting back emissions in a serious way: “Carbon pricing, industry efficiency standards, land use policies, industrial process emissions regulations, complementary power sector policies, renewable portfolio standards, building codes and appliance standards, fuel economy standards, better urban transport, vehicle electrification, and feebates, which is to say carbon taxes passed back through to consumers.” (251) Which of these do you see as most likely for humanity to tackle now?
December 28, 2020 — chapters 69–88 (pp. 341–443).
January 4, 2021 — chapters 89–106 (pp. 445–563).
- New York state divested its pension funds from oil companies
- The leading Kim Stanley Robinson website has a huge post on the novel, with links to tons of resources, including a fine shout-out to this very online book club.
Over to you!