Monday, April 15, 2024

The past, the present and The Ministry for the Future

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On New Year’s Eve of 2020, the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere measured 415 parts per million at the Mauna Loa monitoring site operated by NOAA in the United States.

On New Year’s Day of 2021, the CO2 reading was 447 ppm at the same site – so long as it was being read from the pages of “The Ministry for the Future,” the latest novel from science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. That CO2 reading from the book, whose characters arrive in the near-future year of 2025, rises to 475 ppm as the story unfolds before the CO2 level ultimately begins its slow descent.

“It was down to 451 now, same as in the year 2032, and it was on a clear path to drop further, maybe even all the way to 350,” writes Robinson in Chapter 94, the same chapter that mentions the 58th COP meeting of the Paris Agreement signatories. (In reality, the postponed 2020 meeting in Scotland is the 26th such COP meeting.)

“The discussion now was how far down they wanted to take it,” Robinson continues. “This was a very different kind of discussion than the one that had commanded the world’s attention for the previous forty years.”

The book itself has been at the center of much discussion, but it would be a mistake to assume that Robinson’s work is an optimistic adventure, a tale of humanity’s success in pulling the planet back from the brink of catastrophe. The story begins with the deaths of 20 million people in India after a cruel and unprecedented heat wave.

There are countless more deaths to follow, some at the hands of ecoterrorists forcing an end to air travel or meat consumption, some as assassinations of those implicated in carbon-intensive industries or those whose policies failed to curb them. Read more…

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