Can Fiction Like "The Ministry For the Future" Guide Real Action on Climate?Roundup
tags: literature, fiction, climate
Futurist Thomas Lombardo has indicated various ways that science fiction (sci fi) can help up us imagine better futures. The same can be said for the newer genre of climate fiction (cli fi), which is usually a fictional work set in the future dealing with the effects of climate change and global warming. As the wise writer Wendell Berry often pointed out, our failures of imagination have often been a major cause of various contemporary problems, whether personal, economic, environmental, social, cultural, or political.
Now, in July 2022, with western Europe and the USA experiencing record-breaking climate-change related heat waves, wildfires, and drought and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warning that “half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires,” we again are collectively failing to imagine what our futures (and that of our kids and grandkids) will probably be like.
Once again, other problems, this times inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, food shortages, Supreme Court rulings, mass shootings—there’s always something that our U. S. electorate considers more pressing, more important—divert our attention from climate-change problems. But these problems are like a slowly developing hurricane, and we are failing to prepare.
As Guterres warned, “No nation is immune…we are failing to work together as a multilateral community. Nations continue to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our collective future. We cannot continue this way…We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”
I alluded to an example of climate fiction in an earlier LA Progressive essay that referred to T. C. Boyle’s novel A Friend of the Earth (2000). It depicts California and much of the rest of the world in 2025-2026 experiencing an ecological nightmare.
A more recent cli fi novel and one that suggests many more ways of dealing with climate change is Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 book The Ministry for the Future: A Novel (hereafter Ministry). About the author, leading environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote that he “is an essential authority for our time and place.” New York Times columnist Ezra Klein labeled the novel “The Most Important Book I’ve Read This Year.” And former President Obama listed it as one of his favorite books of 2020.
Although this was not Robinson’s first cli fi novel, he was previously known primarily for his sci fi works. His newer book (which could also be considered sci fi) begins in in the mid 2020s. Frank May, an American aid worker, looks out his apartment window in a northern city in India. It is only about 6 a.m., but it was already about 103 degrees, and he sees that some people had made beds on their rooftops because it was too hot to sleep inside. The heat wave that struck soon killed millions of people in India.
Later on in the novel, Frank briefly kidnaps and argues with the novel’s main character. She is the Irish woman Mary Murphy, and she heads what is commonly called the Ministry for the Future. Although no such international agency now exists, it could be argued that there is an urgent need for just such a one, and that it would follow logically from what has already been established.
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