Book Review: The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
by Peg Johnston
Post apocalyptic novels are a favorite of mine and as the climate crisis worsens, the apocalyptic theme is urgent. Some are reassuring in human resilience (A World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler for instance) and some evoke suicidal tendencies (The Road by Cormac McCarthy). But rarely does a book in this genre explore solutions to the apocalypse itself. Kim Stanley Robinson is known for weaving real life disasters and solutions in his many books, and in The Ministry solutions are the main event.
The story begins with a extreme heat event in India that leaves hundreds of thousands dead. There is an old concept that “when things get bad enough, change will happen” which tends not to be true but in this novel it is the pivot from a world that pays lip service to lowering carbon emissions and real progress. The event radicalizes many policy makers and inspires eco terrorists as well. The Ministry of the Future, created by a clause in the climate summits, is in charge of the effort, with an inadequate budget and not much power. Mary Murphy is Minister and the story follows her growing radicalism and persuasive powers.
The book is chopped up into short chapters with different narrators and references the near future and our failed efforts with lots of real life environmental disasters “ripped from the headlines” as they say. But clearly Robinson keeps a close eye on environmental research and experiments like saving the glaciers in Antarctica, or carbon sequestration in agroforestry, and social equity. But the game changer is carbon coins, fungible credits given to petrochemical companies and other good and bad actors for sequestering carbon, ie, not extracting oil, minerals etc. And also terrorists striking fear into the hearts of CEO’s of these companies.
Looking for a good read that will fill you in on all things environmental? Check out The Ministry of the Future.