7 Oct 2023

Kim Stanley Robinson: Imagining the future and finding hope

From Saturday Morning, 8:10 am on 7 October 2023
Author Kim Stanley Robinson

Author Kim Stanley Robinson Photo: Sean Curtin

American writer Kim Stanley Robinson spends a lot of time imagining the future.

The author of more than 20 novels, including his best-selling Mars trilogy, Robinson is considered one of the greatest writers of contemporary science fiction of our time.

More recently, the committed environmentalist has turned his attention back on Earth, putting his mind and imagination to climate change in his acclaimed 2020 book, The Ministry for the Future.

It lays out what has been described as a chilling yet hopeful vision of how the next few decades on Earth might unfold.

Robinson predicts the next few decades will look messy, but argues it's still worth trying to rein in the worst impacts of climate change.

"We just need to keep on pushing, even if it looks semi-disastrous and the pushing will come to a better result than if we don't push," he said.

"It often will look like we're failing, but the underlying push to decarbonise and to pull a lot of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and resequester it... all these things are started, the technologies are there, the will is growing.

"Everybody is frightened. The climate signals from just this last year are a bit shocking and imply that worse is to come.

"What I'm seeing across government, business, academia and really the general population is a sense that this is real and it's urgent and something has to be done. A lot of good promises have been made, a lot of hopeful signs are there."

Robinson has visited Antarctica and included potential ways to stop glaciers sliding into the sea in his novel, Ministry for the Future.

"It was interesting, because... the sea level rise that could happen if the big glaciers slide into the sea is quite shockingly high. It will wreck the coastal cities of the world in ways that will be hard to recover from.

"Coping with that is, I think, an important problem that actually has some solutions, at least potentially, that need to be explored."

He supports technological fixes for climate change, as well as changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're in an emergency. It's clear to anybody really facing the issue that we have to decarbonise fast.

"Then, after that, if we can mitigate some of the damage we've already started by doing things... We're in an all hands on deck situation and everything has to be considered."

Some critics have suggested humans will simply adapt to climate change, but Robinson vehemently disagrees.

He describes scientific arguments that heat and humidity will reach a point where people cannot survive without air conditioning - precisely at a point when electrical grids are likely to fail at times. When he read about this threat, he felt a burning need to write about it.

"This adaptationist crowd that are saying 'let's go ahead and burn fossil fuels because we're so damn adaptive' - they are wrong and it needs to be said."