The dark side of environmentalism

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ministry for the future Robinson by Kim Stanley is not a book that praises ecoterrorists. In fact, it mostly manages to avoid the topic in many of its pages. Yet, at the center of his speculative account of the eponymous ministry and its leadership over the next few decades, the dark side is the linchpin for transforming Earth into its peaceful, sustainable future.

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It’s a strange setup for a plot-driven novel, in which the actual plot—airplane sabotage, cargo ships sinking—is casually mentioned as news commentary, sometimes in dialogue between characters. The so-called Children of the Kali group, seen in a handful of quick sides and distorted through rumours, use darker methods of violence to force the bourgeois bourgeoisie to ultimately bend towards a net-zero carbon world.

Ecological terrorism has received more sympathetic buy-in from authors in recent years as the climate crisis escalates. Richard Powers, author of the overstory, which won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, depicts how five different characters eventually come together to commit a violent act to save the planet, and then process the results.


This is a serious topic, and one that was beyond bounds after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s not particularly novel though. Square’s Final Fantasy VII, which was released in 1997 and remains a killstar in that franchise’s long history, follows a cell of ecoterrorists trying to save the planet from the ploys of the evil mako-extraction corporate empire Shinra. Used to be.

Yet Robinson has avoided the challenging moral entanglements of violent revolution, or the deeply ingrained feelings that come from those who theoretically love the planet and people, and somehow believes that killing those same creatures is salvation. is a form of. Instead, he writes an expansive, heady work that explores the challenges of a carbon-free future, ultimately finding that humanity can get there, albeit with an off-page violent nudge here and there.

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As a work of speculative fiction, ministry for the future With almost an encyclopedic dispatch, full of speculation. It has featured discussions ranging from discount rates used in economics to blockchain, glacier movements, central bank politics, scientific bureaucracy, Swiss governance, Earth’s albedo, and more. It’s a very broad policy memo wrapped in an airy plot that spans decades — and let’s be clear, a better narrative than any policy memo could ever hope to achieve.

Still, the novel reminds me of an old saying about diplomacy and many other professions: that the job is one that gets bored mostly with moments of panic. at its best, ministry for the future Capable of capturing indelible visions of the future with deep empathy and vigor. The opening scenes of the raging heat wave over India are harrowing, stinging and unforgettable. Robinson is at its finest when crafting nature scenes, with discussions of Antarctica, the Swiss Alps, and views of airplanes resonating in particular.

Although this is probably only a quarter of the book. Robinson has taken on an instant challenge to write an inspiring narrative that could turn the activities of the agency implementing the Paris climate agreement into something enticing to ordinary readers. It’s uneven, and there are glimpses of scenes that remind me of the centenary cycle of Malka Older, which was likewise a lens on a future super-national government body and its bureaucratic run.

Although Older had a direct villain in his series, Robinson took on the tough challenge of working without. The villains are all of us, it’s capitalism and the system, it’s inertia and lethargy. A reader’s interest in the fight against the inertia of a political bureaucrat depends largely on whether his personal biography includes a stint in public policy graduate school. That’s me, but I couldn’t even get there.

But with nearly 600 pages of discourse on climate change mechanics and economics, what is missing is still the most interesting part of Robinson’s work. Entire countries change their politics, sometimes as short as a page. Forcibly stopped by the bourgeoisie sitting in Davos and possibly Kali’s children to watch videos of the death of the planet and the positive path ahead, there was a sudden change of heart. It’s speculative fiction, of course, but with a heavy dose of “what if it just happened”. What if China suddenly became an open, democratic and just place? What if India rejected its modern Hindutva and returned to an organic, agrarian society of regenerative farming? What if the capitalists just gave up?

What is repeatedly missing in the book is any description on human behavior, and in particular, revenge for those who are forced to go without. Sure enough, an ecoterrorist group has succeeded in using drones to sink cargo ships littering the high seas and shoveling carbon-emitting planes out of the sky, and hacking banks all over the world and destroying petrodollars. Did any of those affected ever react? Ironically, the children of Kali were formed after the heat wave of that India, so vengeance is definitely on the writer’s mind.

Robinson wants to unveil what’s possible, to show us a different path. But of course, what’s possible is really Always Possible. The challenge is how to actually hit that path, given that human forces that travel are often inaccessible. As such, the novel is less speculative fiction and more just fiction, a form of escapism for a particularly politically attuned observer of world affairs, who just wishes the people in Geneva could do things.

The lack of human behavioral insight can lead the book to wander very quickly. ministry for the future Posted in 2020 focused on the coming decades, and one of its plot points is how China becomes the vessel to change the climate debate in the years to come. In the process, Hong Kong becomes a bastion of freedom and democracy.

In the last pages of the novel we get an analysis of how it won its independence. “So we fought for it in Hong Kong, we fought for the rule of law. We fought in all the years between 1997 and 2047.” How did they fight? “Over the years we have seen what works and refined our methods. Violence didn’t work. Number done. That’s the secret, if you’re looking for the secret to resisting a royal power, which is what we’ve been doing for those years. Nonviolent resistance of the total population, or resistance as much as possible. That’s what works.”

With the publication of the book (editing and publishing always takes a long time), Hong Kong’s resistance movement completely collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of different movements joined the protests over the years, only to be fully joined in incredibly short order by the mainland government. newspapers are closed, websites blocked, museum, Universities And cultural institute be reduced. The number just didn’t pan out. The nonviolent resistance was executed with excellence by the organizers in Hong Kong. They failed completely.

Which brings us back to the supernatural nature of the central premise of the book. For all the positive changes we should look forward to, this future history depends on a radical group that is ready to commit violence in this world. Robinson wants utopias, and feels a natural utopia is within our grasp, but can’t seem to find a way out with what’s on the page. “Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun,” someone once said. It is a notion that Hong Kong recently re-learned, and one that is becoming increasingly common in environmental discourse. Ministry for the Future is simply reusing the same tactics the world’s previous ministries have used, and this is a catastrophe that none of us should commit.

ministry for the future by Kim Stanley Robinson
the axe, 2020, 576 pages

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