The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (Goodreads review.)

The Ministry for the FutureThe Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Our future, yours and mine, gets more complicated. The climate catastrophe is already happening. It gets worse. Be not afraid.

Also, fear not the length of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future. It is a big read full of big ideas and also some characters. Dive into it. Let it wash over you. This is not a character-driven story, though it is very much about people and the agency people have to influence the future. It is a story without heroes, though the people in it are heroic. It has no villains. Just billions of people and animals struggling to adapt themselves to their too quickly changing environments. It is a story about adaptation and wicked problems and impossible choices. It is a hopeful story.

The story reminds us that, as individuals, we are small — puny, even. Our separate minds cannot hope to grasp the scope and complexity of our global ecosystem. The list of things we don’t understand overwhelms. We don’t understand economics. We don’t understand politics. We don’t really even understand ourselves. Our individual actions seem to have little impact. No one of us can hope to save the world. Give up the idea that someone else is going to save us. We are all together going to have help save each other.

We all know the Paris Treaty has not been enough. It could not be. And the subsequent COP meetings will continue to be bureaucratic parades, a periodic stock-taking that captures the news cycle but engenders little concrete action. And yet, from humble beginnings, massive transformation can begin.

The story follows the work of a newly-created Ministry for the Future, a global policy agency grown from the Paris Climate Treaty. The Ministry finds and supports various scientific, social and political initiatives already happening around the world. People are more creative than any government agency. The Ministry doesn’t invent the work or even set the direction. The work is already happening. It just needs to be supported and amplified. There are successes and setbacks, brutal weather catastrophes and violence. Only occasionally a politician wanders through but the bankers are the true seat of power. Their job, as always, is to preserve the markets. The bankers get motivated when they finally realize the only way to preserve the markets is to preserve the planet.

This is a book that resists simple star ratings. It is unlike any other book I have read because it is intentionally not a character-driven story with a traditional plot arc. It is a near-future accounting of all of us. What Robinson gives is not futurism. It is right now. And the goal is not solving climate change. We are way past that. The story is about mitigation — how we will need to learn to continually adapt ourselves to the changes set into motion during the Anthropocene.

Those who came before us set into motion an unplanned experiment of radically reshaping the world. There is now no escape from that experiment and there will be no end to the work. The stakes are enormous. It has become our responsibility to take up the work of that experiment more mindfully than those who came before us. It is our moral duty to understand ourselves responsible to the very real people, not yet born, of the next seven generations. These people will be blessed and cursed by what you and I are doing today. If we can learn to be mindful of these unseen people and also learn to see one another, the each 8 billion currently standing on Earth, we can take up the work with a hopeful spirit. We can bend the curve, as we said in the early COVID days. We can adapt ourselves to better ways of living.

We are not doomed, but we are making a story in which we are not the main characters. Pretending to the main characters of our story is a recipe for continued disaster.

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