Today we conclude our reading of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future.
With this post we start discussing the fifth and final part of the novel, chapters 89-106 (pp. 445-563). I’ll begin with a summary of the story so far, add comments from readers, add some of my own notes, then ask questions for discussion. At the end I’ll 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.
One more note: if you have any questions for me to ask the author, let me know! I’m sending him the email shortly.
Now, to dig in!
SPOILERS AHEAD. Obviously:
The climate crisis turns around. CO2 levels drop for the first time, due in part to “greening of the ocean shallows with kelp” (446) but especially to the carbon coin and “drawdown efforts” (455) (chapter 89). More of the economy than ever is tied to blockchains (454-5). The United Nations agree to spread climate pain around globally and more justly (463). The Antarctic has been stabilized (ch 93) and the Arctic Ocean’s albedo reduced (523-4). A new holiday, Gaia Day, is celebrated (546).
The United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) meets and shared both good news and problems, including the total human population starting to decline (477, 502), nuclear power and materials, failed states, the status of women, and more (94). They have a poster using the Keeling Curve:
In the Ministry, Tatiana is assassinated (ch 89). Mary retires and Badim succeeds her (ch 98).
Frank has a brain tumor, which kills him. Mary goes on a world voyage and starts a relationship with an airship captain Arthur Nolan.
Joe Murphy was skeptical about terror and geopolitical plots. Joshua Kim and Chris Mayer pondered making climate change central to college and university missions. Lisa Sieverts and Mark discussed the chapter (87) from last week where people relocated voluntarily for climate reasons:
As someone who lives in a small town, I thought it was unrealistic that the Montanans agreed to abandon their town. (Personally, I hope I would do the right thing and agree to leave when it would be so clearly good for the planet.)
I liked what he said about the suburban communities cheerfully leaving their communities. Some developers bought out a small cul de sac near our local college to build apartments and at the time I was outraged that this tiny community had been bulldozed, but now I’m not so sure.
Tom Haymes argues that the novel makes a great case for interdisciplinary thinking and practice.
The novel continues with more non-main-plot chapters. There is another riddle chapter, the answer for which is not provided (ch 95). There are also meditations on technological determinism (ch 90) and revolutionary politics (ch 99). We get micro-stories about characters we never see again, but who give us glimpses of ideas and the world in transition, like a Hong Kong political activist (ch 101).
Technology: the world uses many technologies and practices we now know to measure the improving climate, “the Great Internet of Things, the Quantified World, the World as Data.” (p 454) An international group tints the Arctic Ocean to reduce its albedo (523-4).
Mary’s new partner is named Arthur, yet he plays no heroic role in the world beyond making her happy. I’m not sure what this means, except perhaps a quiet argument for a world without individual superheroes.
- What made the successful decarbonization work? How would be describe the strategy?
- Related to 1: which pressure points were squeezed to make the victory happen?
- Some geoengineering plays a key role in the world’s triumph. It’s less ambitious than anything spaceborne, but definitely more than we’re doing (deliberately) now. Is this a kind of geoengineering compromise or middle path?
- Arguably the world’s success was partially driven by terrorism. Nobody is identified as the authors of all of those acts of violence, much less prosecuted for conducting them. In fact Badim, head of the Ministry’s “black wing,” is promoted to the next head of the organization. What argument is the novel ultimately making about the climate crisis and violence?
- What role did higher education play in the novel, overall?
- On the last two pages Mary and Art return to the Ganymede statue (seen earlier) and wonder about its meaning:
Art suggests it’s about a man offering himself as a sacrifice for animals. Is that man Frank? Or is there some much larger sacrifice occurring in the novel?
- An apparent ecoterror attack took place in Colorado, breaking natural gas lines.
- What if users owned technology?
- A new Karl Schroeder story offers an interesting take on an environmentally positive blockchain currency.
- The New York Times looks back on the “deep adaptation” paper.
- UPCO2 claims to be “the world’s first tradable, carbon token available on a public blockchain.” More: “When you invest in UPCO2, you invest in sustainably preserving the rainforest, which is good for the planet and your portfolio. UPCO2 is the best way for you to buy, hold, sell or burn carbon credits. It’s convenient, trustworthy and rewarding. It’s a financial incentive to do what’s right for the planet and to do well for yourself in turn. A crypto that’s actually clean.” (thanks to Steve Foerster)
Thanks to so many readers who shared their thoughts so far. Now, over to you for the final round of discussion!