The Ministry for the Future

The Ministry for the Future

A Novel

Kim Stanley Robinson

if total emissions over historical time were totted up, India would come in far behind all of the developed nations of the Western world, as everyone knew. In dealing with the poverty that still plagued so much of the Indian populace, the Indian government had had to create electricity as fast as they could, and also, since they existed in a world run by the market, as cheaply as they could. Otherwise outside investors would not invest, because the rate of return would not be high enough. So they had burned coal, yes. Like everyone else had up until just a few years before. Now India was being told not to burn coal, when everyone else had finished burning enough of it to build up the capital to afford to shift to cleaner sources of power. India had been told to get better without any financial help to do so whatsoever. Told to tighten the belt and embrace austerity, and be the working class for the bourgeoisie of the developed world, and suffer in silence until better times came—but the better times could never come, that plan was shot. The deck had been stacked, the game was over.

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Looking into plans to redirect fossil fuel companies to do decarbonization projects. Capabilities strangely appropriate. Extraction and injection both use same tech, just reversed. People, capital, facilities, capacities, all these can be used to “collect and inject,” either by way of cooperation or legal coercion. Keeps oil companies in business but doing good things. Tatiana looks interested. Rest of group looking skeptical. Carbon capture and reinsertion into empty oil wells are both dubious as a reality. Mary: Look into it more. We’ve got to have it, from what the calculations say about how much the natural methods can grab.

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Can’t charge premiums high enough to cover pay-outs, nor could anyone afford to pay that much. Lack of predictability means re-insurance companies simply refusing to cover environmental catastrophes, the way they don’t insure war or political unrest etc. So, end of insurance, basically. Everyone hanging out there uninsured. Governments therefore payer of last resort, but most governments already deep in debt to finance, meaning also re-insurance companies. Nothing left to give without endangering belief in money. Entire system therefore on brink of collapse. Mary: What mean collapse? Jurgen: Mean, money no longer working as money. Silence in room. Jurgen adds, So you can see why re-insurance hoping for some climate mitigation! We can’t afford for world to end! No one laughs.

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The happy medium, the Goldilocks zone in terms of personal income, according to sociological analyses, seemed to rest at around 100,000 US dollars a year, or about the same amount of money that most working scientists made, which was a little suspicious in several senses, but there it stood: data.

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You pump that water out from under the glaciers. Melt drillholes like we already do there when we check out subglacial lakes, or to get through the ice shelves. Technology is well known, and pretty easy. Pump up the water from under the glaciers, and actually, the weight of the ice on it will cause that water to come up a well hole ninety percent of the way, just from pressure of all that weight. Then you pump it up the rest of the way, pipe it away from the glacier onto some stable ice nearby.”

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This was a feedback loop with teeth. The Arctic ice cap, which at its first measurement in the 1950s was more than ten meters thick, had been a big part of the Earth’s albedo; during northern summers it had reflected as much as two or three percent of the sun’s incoming insolation back into space. Now that light was instead spearing into the ocean and heating it up. And for reasons not fully understood, the Arctic and the Antarctic were already the most rapidly warming places on Earth. This meant also that the permafrost ringing the Arctic in Siberia and Alaska and Canada and Greenland and Scandinavia was melting faster and faster; which meant the release of a great deal of permafrost carbon, and also methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times stronger than CO2 in its ability to capture heat in the atmosphere. Arctic permafrost contained as much stored methane as all the Earth’s cattle would create and emit over six centuries, and this giant burp, if released, would almost certainly push Earth over an irreversible tipping point into jungle planet mode, completely ice-free; at which point sea level would be 110 meters higher than at present, with global average temperatures at least 5 or 6 degrees Celsius higher and probably more, rendering great stretches of the Earth uninhabitable by humans. At that point civilization would be over. Some remainder of humanity might adapt to the new biosphere, but they would be a post-traumatic remnant, in a post-mass-extinction world.

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Jevons Paradox proposes that increases in efficiency in the use of a resource lead to an overall increase in the use of that resource, not a decrease. William Stanley Jevons, writing in 1865, was referring to the history of the use of coal; once the Watt engine was introduced, which greatly increased the efficiency of coal burning as energy creation, the use of coal grew far beyond the initial reduction in the amount needed for the activity that existed before the time of the improvement. The rebound effect of this paradox can be mitigated only by adding other factors to the uptake of the more efficient method, such as requirements for reinvestment, taxes, and regulations. So they say in economics texts.

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the tragedy of the time horizon. Meaning we can’t imagine the suffering of the people of the future, so nothing much gets done on their behalf. What we do now creates damage that hits decades later, so we don’t charge ourselves for it, and the standard approach has been that future generations will be richer and stronger than us, and they’ll find solutions to their problems. But by the time they get here, these problems will have become too big to solve. That’s the tragedy of the time horizon, that we don’t look more than a few years ahead, or even in many cases, as with high-speed trading, a few micro-seconds ahead. And the tragedy of the time horizon is a true tragedy, because many of the worst climate impacts will be irreversible. Extinctions and ocean warming can’t be fixed no matter how much money future people have, so economics as practiced misses a fundamental aspect of reality.

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Now Bangalore, the Garden City, third largest in India, is thriving as a global hub for IT, and innovations there in the creation of the so-called Internet of Land and Animals

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in a world powered by solar power, India is indeed blessed. More sunlight energy falls on India than on any other nation on Earth.

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Maybe it was just psychological rather than economic, but people liked to be paid for doing things more than they liked avoiding having to pay for something. There was a mental difference between carrots and sticks, no matter if the numbers were the same in a ledger. With the one you got fed, with the other you got hit. They simply were not the same.

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We didn’t have a good plan to change government itself, and we argued with each other about how to proceed. A movement without leaders is a good idea in theory, but at some point you have to have a plan.

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So, someone asked tonight in the mess tent, is what we’re doing down here geoengineering? Who the hell knows! What’s in a word? Call it Glacier Elevation Operations, Based on Estimates of Godawfulness Gobsmacking Interested Nations’ Goodness: GEO-BEGGING.

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Then people began to share the news that you could transfer everything going on in the rest of your internet life into a single account on YourLock, which was organized as a co-op owned by its users, after which you had secured your data in a quantum-encrypted cage and could use it as a negotiable asset in the global data economy, agreeing to sell your data or not to data-mining operations out there who quickly saw the new lay of the land and began to offer people micro-payments for their data, mainly health information, consumption patterns, and finance. The royalties for being oneself in the world machine were not insignificant, a kind of lifetime annuity, small but useful. And so people began to make the shift, and one day that tipping point arrived where a non-linear shear occurred, like an earthquake, and suddenly everyone had a YourLock account and would henceforth be conducting their internet life by way of it. A whole new internet ecology, the much-hyped but previously vaporwaresque Internet 3.0.

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Mary was prepared to start a movement worldwide in which governments put their central banks on leashes and directed them to act in ways governments wanted. The great example of how effective this nationalization or internationalization of the national banks could be was the takeover of the Bank of England by the British Treasury during the Second World War. Britain had commandeered the Bank of England to properly guide capital where it was needed to win the war. The same could be done again with climate change, if the relevant legislatures felt it was necessary.

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The Götterdämmerung Syndrome, as with most violent pathologies, is more often seen in men than women. It is often interpreted as an example of narcissistic rage. Those who feel it are usually privileged and entitled, and they become extremely angry when their privileges and sense of entitlement are being taken away. If then their choice gets reduced to admitting they are in error or destroying the world, a reduction they often feel to be the case, the obvious choice for them is to destroy the world; for they cannot admit they have ever erred.

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Millions of Animals were tagged, and thus now participating in the so-called Internet of Animals, which is basically a gigantic suite of scientific studies. It was not far from true that we had a better census going with the mammals and birds in the Y2Y corridor than we did for the humans in it.

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Canada is big. Really, they could lead the Half Earth movement without even changing much; shift two percent of their human population, and over half of their country would be left to the animals.

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The situation had to be handled with a touch of delicacy. First, money. Significant applications of money. Then persuasion. Hedgerows often saved soil, they built soil, they were considered worth the land they took. Native plant strips, the same. No-till ag, the same. Habitat corridors had to be seen first as extensions of that kind of agriculture, done to increase soil building and soil resilience. Wide hedgerows were the wedge for this topic, the least objectionable innovation. Then the idea of wild animals had to be brought in as kind of pest control devices. Of course those who grazed domestic animals were not pleased, but since the mad cow disease scare in the previous decade, with its subsequent collapse of beef demand, there were simply far fewer domestic beasts out there to worry about. Hogs were enclosed, chickens were enclosed; those supposedly terrible wolves would now mostly be eating tick-infested crop-eating deer; it was the deer who were the pests, deer who devastated crops! It was a matter of crop protection to have wild predators on the land! And you could even hunt them later on, if some culling was found necessary.

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There were blimps now that flew carbon negative, as the solar panels on their top sides collected more electricity than needed for the flight, so that they could microwave it down to receivers they passed over. Air travel could now also be power generation—

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Then later I looked it up and learned that admirals’ salaries top out at $ 200,000 a year. No one in the Navy gets paid more than that per year. So they call this the pay differential, it’s sometimes expressed as a ratio from lowest pay to highest. That ratio for the Navy is about one to eight. For one of the most respected and well-run organizations on Earth. Sometimes this gets called wage parity or economic democracy, but let’s just call it fairness, effectiveness, esprit de corps. One to eight. No wonder those admirals seemed so normal—they were! Whereas in the corporate world I’ve read the average wage ratio is like one to five hundred. Actually that was the median; one to 1,500 happens pretty often. The top executives in these companies earn in ten minutes what it takes their starting employees all year to earn.

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When you get one pay amount, and someone doing something easier gets a thousand of that pay amount, that’s a disincentive to care about anything. At that point you throw a rock through a window, or vote for some asshole who is going to break everything, which may give you a chance to start over, and if that doesn’t work then at least you have said fuck you to the thousand-getters. And so on.

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I recalled also the old notion from psychotherapy that people fear change because it can only be change for the worse, in that you turn into a different person and are therefore no longer yourself. Thus change as death. But death of habits. That’s all it is, I told myself.

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Such as the way like-minded people working to solve the same problem will engage in continuous civil war with each other over methods, thus destroying their chances of success. Why does that happen, do you think? The narcissism of small differences. That’s an odd name. It’s Freud’s name. Means more regard for yourself than for your allies or the problems you both face.

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