The Ministry for The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, The Ministry for The Future (2020), feels like a blueprint. Set in our near future, it follows a set of diverse characters living all over the world who are trying to solve the climate crisis, repair our world and, essentially, save the human race.
The novel begins in India where Frank May is working at a charity organization’s neighborhood clinic. Heatwaves have become a regular occurrence there. When the worst one yet arrives and power is shut off, Frank desperately tries to help the citizens in the neighborhood but is unsuccessful. He is the only survivor of an event that kills millions of people, results in a stubborn case of PTSD for Frank, and sets off a global effort to make sure that it never happens again.
Back in Switzerland, Mary Murphy heads the Ministry for the Future, an organization originating from the Paris Agreement. The Ministry for the Future was developed to protect the people of the future and to make sure that this is done justly and equitably. Their most pressing goal is to end the climate crisis. Though Mary thinks that all of her organization’s activities are transparent and humane, a quiet minority in the Ministry believe that the end justifies the means.
Meanwhile various scientists and economists are experimenting with different ideas for reversing the effects of climate change and/or promoting global equality. Some of the projects they’re working on include reducing the temperature of the Earth, rebuilding glaciers, preventing mass extinctions of animals, working with Central Banks to develop a global currency based on carbon usage, socializing necessities such as healthcare and utilities, capping incomes, abolishing tax loopholes and havens, and equally distributing resources. Each of these ideas is discussed in a way that is both educational and entertaining.
Then there are the terrorists who hope to solve climate and inequality issues by stopping them at the source. This means kidnapping and/or killing off the greedy rich people who cause them, attacking power plants, bombing buildings, hacking banks, poisoning beef and, as a bonus, instilling fear and forcing compliance in those who aren’t voluntarily doing enough to help.
Other characters include world leaders, refugees living long-term in camps, a young woman experiencing a flood in Los Angeles, and amateur scientists and activists with creative ideas.
In some ways The Ministry for The Future is pessimistic as it details a bevy of horrifying events that humans may experience as a result of our past and current behaviors. But the story is also hopeful and inspirational as we see all of these different types of people all over the world coming together to solve our common problems and creating justice and equity.
In 2020 this beautiful outcome seems unlikely but, if it ever happens (and Robinson argues that it needs to begin happening soon), it surely will require a huge amount of global cooperation of countries, scientists, leaders, politicians, central banks, activists, and everyday citizens. Kim Stanley Robinson gives us a blueprint of how to make it happen. I have no idea which of his suggestions could actually work, but I enjoyed learning and thinking about them. Plus, there is some great alpine and arctic scenery in the story.
I listened to Hachette Audio’s edition of The Ministry for The Future which is 21 hours long and narrated by Jennifer Fitzgerald, Fajer Al-Kaisi, Ramon de Ocampo, Gary Bennett, Raphael Corkhill, Barrie Kreinik, Natasha Soudek, Nikki Massoud, Joniece Abbott Pratt, Ines del Castillo, and Vikas Adam. This is a great way to experience The Ministry for The Future.