The year is 2053 ... and here’s what our world is doing to protect climate

TO get a more hopeful angle on COP26, the annual United Nations protect climate conference coming to Glasgow in November, it may be useful to jump forwards to COP58.

The year is 2053 ... and here’s what our world is doing to protect climate

By Pat Kane

The Year Is 2053 … And Here’s What Our World Is Doing To Protect Climate : In the words of one report from 2053, the meeting includes “the sixth mandated global stocktake”. It recounts that we are burning “far less CO2 into the atmosphere than in any year since 1887”.

The Global Footprint Network has the world “working at par in relation to the Earth’s bioproduction, waste intake and processing … What for many years had been true only for Cuba and Costa Rica had become true everywhere”.

GDP has been replaced by the “Biosphere and Civilisation Health Meta-Index” (or BCHMI, which could be snappier). And the de facto global digital currency, which pays and incentivises the old interests to do the right planetary thing, is called the carbon coin.

The report comes from the marvellous novel The Ministry For The Future (MFTF), by the American sci-fi titan Kim Stanley Robinson, which has become the progressive’s number-one read (from Obama onwards) in the months since its publishing in October 2020.

That’s what’s great about science-fiction: it’s plausible time-travel in your lap (or laptop). And it doesn’t always have to be grimly dystopian – though it may visit dystopia on the way.

As the tension rises towards this November meeting, with article after article angsting about how little may be achieved here, it’s been a real tonic to be reading Robinson’s epic.

Essentially, it celebrates the power of wise, visionary and determined administrators to solve life-or-death global problems. You’d want to send it to every delegate going to Glasgow, hoping to tickle the vanity of their ambition.

Yet Robinson’s book would also give them a hard time. He places this UN-founded ministry in a swirling maelstrom of horrors, terrorists and the suffering, as well as the wood-panelled, well-lunched rooms, of global diplomacy. But there are also some very clearly-imagined big ideas here, pushing against some of the Luddite tendencies of the green movement.

Robinson has drunk deeply from the climate science, which is why the opening of MFTF is spookily prescient, and is also the most harrowing read I’ve had for a long time. It’s a description of the pain and carnage that comes from a spell of 35-degree “wet-bulb” heat temperatures, located by the book in the India of 2025.

Under these conditions, 20 million people die in a single week. The sense of powerlessness, before a nature which has been pushed to make places uninhabitable for humans, is brilliantly evoked. Certainly no aircon to speak of, no public infrastructure to tend to the broken or the dead.

All the policy bustle and multiple perspectives of the novel – and it’s implied, of our activism – begins from this ground-zero, holocaust-like moment. Will the recent extreme temperatures in Europe and America spur us to collective action this way? Sadly, Robinson implies the body-count has to be much higher than currently recorded in order to trigger anything similar.

The ministry is run by a lawyer and former minister for Irish foreign affairs, Mary Murphy. She is an obvious amalgam of Mary Robinson and Christiana Figueres. Mary is compassionate to her cause, but chippy to the faces of the governmental and financial elites she has to enrol in action.

Even as Mary schleps from meeting to meeting, some of the darkest and most dangerous elements of the book crackle around her. Take her relationship with a Western survivor of the Indian disaster, Frank. He is now convinced that only violence and sabotage is an appropriate response. Failing to be accepted by a new Indian eco-terrorist network, The Children of Kali, he goes rogue.

Frank briefly holds Mary at gunpoint in her Zurich flat. By his direct accusations he radicalises her: “You’re not doing everything you can, and what you are doing isn’t going to be enough… Admit it!” She abandons her bureaucratic pace. Mary stays connected with Frank through his arrest, illness and eventual death.

So as the ministry builds up to its massive and ambitious plans, it does so in conditions where terrorism has become a pervasive tactic. Davos attendees are captured on site. Hacked aircraft fall from the sky. Coal and oil infrastructure is strategically disabled by swarms of tiny drone fighters.

It’s even suggested that the MFTF has its own “black-ops” division —operating without Mary’s knowledge, so that her “plausible deniability” can be maintained.

We are not there yet, in reality (though Robinson makes it seem inevitable in his text). However, in the plot, these disruptions put a stiff wind behind their big policies.

Here’s the first of them. The carbon coin is a real-world proposal (from engineer Delton Chen) which Robinson describes elsewhere as “carbon quantitative easing”. In the novel, Mary achieves a consensus, led by the Chinese, that a new global digital currency should be created.

They agree it should be paid to nations and companies that clearly sequester, or act to remove, carbon from their activities. “People could devote their working lives to decarbonisation and make a living at that, and the biosphere that is our only home would be better for it,” writes Robinson on the Bloomberg website.

The author accepts that there will be the usual gaming and speculation involved from traders. “It would be complicated and messy, sure. But not as complicated and messy as a mass extinction event.”

Another big idea. Use an array of solar-powered water pumps in the Arctic and Antarctic, spraying water up from below the glaciers. This would both stop them sliding off their rockbase and into the sea and expand the contraction of their frozen surfaces. Robinson makes the great point that the skills for this are very transferable from the existing fossil-fuel industries – an obvious attraction for them.

The same transfer is possible with carbon capture, particularly the straight-from-air kind. Some on the green-left (Robinson’s own political position) are suggesting that this can only happen under state direction (though maybe a dedicated climate currency would bring the capitalists in).

One intriguing effect of MFTF is the way it makes geoengineering – our plans to remedy climatic distortions through technology – feel more credible. Robinson wants to answer the urge to heroism and ingenuity within humans, as well as trigger our fears and panic.

Another idea I liked is called YourLock, a digital social platform launched by the ministry. YourLock promises not to manipulate your information, uses carbon coins to give you a new economic identity and encourages you to be a “new kind of citizen of the world”.

Robinson bring these ideas to life in rich characters, like a modern-day HG Wells. The oddest and most original parts of the book are where the writer tries to give a voice to the non-human: the sun, blockchain software, the market, a photon, a carbon particle, herd animals.

Indeed, the whole book is a baggy monster of different discourses – juxtaposing hard science and tender testimony, scratchy memos and militant manifestos. Through it all, the staff from the Ministry For The Future doggedly try and try again. They believe that “the only catastrophe that can’t be undone is extinction”; that a “good anthropocene” is possible.

They eventually get there. But they have to make a start, which they do from an all-too-imaginable date. Maybe we can pre-date science-fiction, and start this year.

I would commend this book to the UK Government (as if the straw might fall from their scarecrow heads and they could hear it). However, I urgently press it upon Sturgeon and company.

The Scottish Government may not be central to the events at COP26. But in their own bustling-about, they could do a lot worse than adopt from the ambitious, capacious tone of The Ministry For The Future. Or better, plan for one, under indy.

Originally published at The national