On “The Ministry for the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson


The thing I have always appreciated about Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) is that he never forgets that science is created by humans, and that humans are complicated.  He is most known for his Mars trilogy and his futuristic visions of space colonization. For me, however, his books about climate change and its effect on humans, and the understanding it takes to effect change have been the books that have caused me the most thought.  His Science in the Capital trilogy (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting), his New York (submerged by water with skyscrapers as islands), and now The Ministry for the Future.

The premise is simple: the United Nations, as part of the Paris accords, creates a ministry to work in the interest of those yet unborn, the future.  It is a small office in Geneva with a small budget and a charge to create its own mission and activities.

From this jumping off place we are treated to an exciting, frightening, and thoughtful description of the world’s struggle with climate change, those that are trying to fix the problem, and those that are not. It’s sometimes hard to know who the good guys and bad guys are: the terrorists who shoot every airplane out of the sky, or the bureaucrats at the World Bank who are trying to manipulate carbon usage with payments and currency manipulation.

The real strength of the book for me is in its analysis of the world political and economic situation.  KSR is clearly a socialist, and this book is a socialist manifesto.

The characters and plot are engaging, but for me, clearly serve the political agenda, which is to teach the science of climate change.  The opening chapter is so powerful, so moving, so devastatingly real, that I was fully involved for the duration.

Here is an excerpt for your elucidation.

And one can run the math. The 2,000 Watt Society, started in 1998 in Switzerland, calculated that if all the energy consumed by households were divided by the total number of humans alive, each would have the use of about 2,000 watts of power, meaning about 48 kilowatt-hours per day. The society’s members then tried living on that amount of electricity to see what it was like: they found it was fine. It took paying attention to energy use, but the resulting life was by no means a form of suffering; it was even reported to feel more stylish and meaningful to those who undertook the experiment. So, is there energy enough for all? Yes. Is there food enough for all? Yes. Is there housing enough for all? There could be, there is no real problem there. Same for clothing. Is there health care enough for all? Not yet, but there could be; it’s a matter of training people and making small technological objects, there is no planetary constraint on that one. Same with education. So all the necessities for a good life are abundant enough that everyone alive could have them. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education. Is there enough security for all? Security is the feeling that results from being confident that you will have all the things listed above, and your children will have them too. So it is a derivative effect. There can be enough security for all; but only if all have security. If one percent of the humans alive controlled everyone’s work, and took far more than their share of the benefits of that work, while also blocking the project of equality and sustainability however they could, that project would become more difficult. This would go without saying, except that it needs saying. To be clear, concluding in brief: there is enough for all. So there should be no more people living in poverty. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which no one can rise. Enough is as good as a feast— or better. Arranging this situation is left as an exercise for the reader.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Ministry for the Future.

– David T.

Authors’ opinions may not reflect those of the TCDSA