Kim Stanley Robinson on science, justice and science fiction

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22 Responses to “Kim Stanley Robinson on science, justice and science fiction”

  1. smgrady says:

    If science is “powerful leftist politics”, it’s only because some party painted it so (I point to the right wing). Good science is just numbers. You may certainly use my data plot in your PowerPoint show. But when scientists become activists, doubt is cast upon them (and their data) – that’s why they usually speak through their professional organizations.

    • Rayonic says:

      I’d say the left is at least as guilty for associating environmentalism with leftism. Probably moreso. They’re out there complaining that evil capitalist corporations are polluting the environment and that globalization is ruining the global climate. Many are self-admittedly (and understandably) using the environment as leverage for their goals.

      That’s not to say there isn’t a correlation between capitalism and carbon output, but that’s generally due to its success at increasing industrial output. State-owned factories, for example, are usually huge polluters, but there’s just less of them around.

      • Charlotte Corday says:

        One hilarious part of the article is the interviewer asking if we have to be more statist, less democratic, more “Leninist” in order to save the planet, and KSR kinda sorta agreeing.

        Whereas I would have responded, “Mmmmmm, well,if there is one thing we have learned from the twentieth century experiment with Leninism, it is the degree to which Leninist states are careful custodians of the environment.”

        • turn_self_off says:

          That makes one wonder how much Lenin actually had to do with how the soviet state turned out, given that the man he specifically warned against came to power after Lenin’s death.

          Or that the leaderships following was paranoid about a US/NATO invasion, and so directed to much resources towards military at the cost of everything else.

          I wonder tho how a nation would turn out if the means of production was run by local democracy rather then as a dictatorship from either the CEO or a distant capitol.

          • Anonymous says:

            Lenin had very little to do with the soviet empire following the initial revolution. Once Stalin grabbed power, he exiled (and later assassinated) Trotsky and appropriated Lenin’s image and words to give stolen validity to his dictatorship.
            Don’t blame the soviet failure, rape and pillage of natural resources, on socialism — the soviet union was a dictatorship through and through.

      • turn_self_off says:

        I would say the problem is that every time someone mentions “environmental costs” the capitalists (or perhaps corporatists) scream about things like “government intervention will ruin it all!”.

        The problem is not capitalism as an abstract idea, but the corporate capitalism we have today where the people funding things are isolated from the repercussions and have managed to make the corporations as entities only about short term profits.

        Where before the peasants would rise against a land lord if he pushed to hard, the modern land lord (known as investor) can parade the sock puppet corporation in front of us all and get us to direct our anger at it rather then them.

        The most nasty example i can think of was when Pfizer ran afoul a recent change of US laws. But as said corporation provides perhaps 90% of the drugs used in USA, and the new law would ban their products from the market, they got an agreement with US government that a recently created subsidiary would take the blame and be dissolved.

        It is like fighting a hydra. Strike one head down and two more shows up in its place.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rayonic brings up an interesting point by mentioning dramatic work to alleviate the climate change. After all, this is one of the key aspects that KSR writes about in Red Mars( digging boreholes, engineering low pressure lichen and moss to produce atmosphere).

    We can’t stem the flow of free CO2 into the atmosphere. It is outside of technical and political means to do so. My guess is that the end of petrochemicals control of our energy will be in 30 or 40 years when they’ve reached a rarity that forces us to change paradigms to renewable or nuclear energy.

    We’ve precipitated the next temperature high in the climatic cycle. What we need is one of the super volcanoes to erupt and lower the earths temperature by 5 or 6 degrees for a couple hundred years.

  3. tsm_sf says:

    This man defines the word ‘lucid’ for me. To paraphrase one of Canada’s foremost thinkers, it’s like its 72 degrees inside his head _all the time_.

  4. Mr. Customer says:

    Man, I forget how much I loves me some KSR. I don’t think it would be hyperbole to say his writing significantly altered the way I look at the world.

  5. dissembly says:

    Charlotte Corday, you began by accusing KSR of “tunnel vision” for attacking capitalism, but to be honest, I haven’t seen you demonstrate any deep understanding of the situation.

    The criticisms of capitalism are profound, empirical, and incredibly easy to find (and the defenses, like your own, above, correspondingly shallow and rhetorical). I’m sure he didn’t feel he had the need to lay it all out in excruciating detail when anybody could pursue the issue themselves. His goal in an interview would be to make his own contribution clear, rather than repeating everyone elses.

    You comment that “People who use significantly LESS fossil fuel than I do are entitled to lecture me” is amazingly specious and self-important. You seriously believe that most of humanity is even capable of going off and living in some commune with you? Ridiculous.

    Begin with the fact that the majority of greenhouse emissions are industrial, not personal. Take the astonishingly obvious observation that the majority of people, least of all the people who consume from these industries, have any say in what decisions are made in corporate boardrooms. Add the equally obvious observation that the people who work in those industries don’t exercise control over their work lives either.

    And note that the large-scale investments needed for research and development of alternative energy, creation of infrastructure for things like public mass transport, and city and community planning are not things that will EVER happen based on the private initiatives of a few self-involved lifestyle-changing heroes.

    Good for you, living on a “semi-rural” homestead. The other three billion of us aren’t that lucky. (In fact, the other three billion of *you*, i.e. people who live in rural environments, aren’t living anywhere close to your quality of life – just based on the fact that you’re posting something on the internet.)

    Wake up and smell the rest of the human population of Earth. Maybe you’re suggesting that the New Yorkers or Londoners that “are not entitled to lecture you” should all come out into rural areas, and precipitate an economic collapse that will finally equalize the first and third worlds? Then will we be pulling our weight, by your standards?

    Your take on environmentalism is so scarily out of sync with reality, that i do not know how you could possibly believe that you have any sort of solution that would mean anything to most of the people on this planet. Honestly, TUNNEL-VISION! That *you* could accuse ANYBODY else on the planet of that is incredible to me.

    (By the way, I’m not sure what your Trotsky comment is about, but it doesn’t bother *me* to hear the name of a man who tried to rally the world against Fascism while almost everyone else, liberals, capitalists, “libertarians” and Stalinists alike, seemed to be doing whatever they could to bring them to power.)

  6. Charlotte Corday says:

    Well, in the full interview KSR is quoted as follows:

    “…..The push for that will come from people themselves as they come to understand the danger to their homes, livelihoods, and children, and in democracies it will be enacted by legislation; in the command economies (mainly China) it will come about from national self-interest…..”

    I agree with that formulation. People will always do what they believe to be in their best interest, and will always resist what they don’t.

    The problem inherent in the climate change movement, as compared to other environmental movements, is that the costs are as widely diffused as the benefits.

    It’s easy to be against one corporate board, with one CEO, who are dumping heavy metals into a river, affecting millions who live downstream.

    It’s a lot more challenging to sell the benefits of lower CO2 in the atmosphere to Patel in Mumbai who dreams of replacing his horsecart with a minivan, or Aisha in Dakar who wants an air conditioner for her childrens’ bedroom.

    And for those of you who haven’t the time to read the full interview, perhaps I can summarize it for you:

    “Capitalism is bad. You shouldn’t be for capitalism. If you are, you’re bad, because capitalism is bad, m’kay. It’s a bad thing to be a capitalist, so don’t be bad by being a capitalist, m’kay, that’d be bad.”

    What a depressing exercise in tunnel vision from the author of the brilliant (and essentially optimistic) Mars trilogy.

  7. Anonymous says:

    @Dissembly:

    Her Trotsky reference was to my comment about her screen name. Charlotte Corday is the woman who assassinated Jean-Paul Marat. She hoped to prevent a civil war, but she probably hastened a continental war.

    But yeah, your point is well taken. We have 7 billion people on earth, and we have to figure out to work around that issue. It’s a political problem, not a personal one. Additionally, I question the amount of good rural living does. If you have to travel long distances to get to your nearest neighbor, then you’re driving quite a bit. Cities (as opposed to suburbs) create certain “economies of scale” that allow for drastic emmissions reductions (if planners approach them in the right way, i.e., New York not Houston). Mike Davis seems to think that that which is killing us (large populations congregating en masse) is also that which might save us (ecologically planned cities). Hard to say. Things seem pretty dire at this point.

  8. AGC says:

    Revolution is the opium of the intellectual. The bulk of ‘scientists’ are just technicians. The scientific community is forced to languish behind the curtains of power.

    I mean what scientists done for us; aside from space travel, telecommunications, modern medicine. What have they done for us lately?

    It would still be good if the majority of people who are rational could start to purposely exclude future Darwin Award candidates from making political decisions.

  9. Anonymous says:

    KSR is being more than a bit fatuous when he says that only now has science become political. From the days of the Fabian Society onward, and even before that, technocrats have dreamed about running society along scientific principles. (I refer you, inter alia, to the brilliant anthropologist James C. Scott’s “Seeing Like a State,” which discusses the cult of High Modernism as handmaiden to state coercion.)

    The trouble is that much of the time, those who claim to speak for science have abstracted away from all other concerns except their own. Appeals to scientific authority are nearly as bad as appeals to divine authority, in this sense. Consider KSR’s own posited opposition between science and capitalism (Marxist rubbish on the face of it, but regardless). The human costs of restraining the economy for the sake of global warming might be tolerable—or they might lead to societal misery that would dwarf any possible gains from stabilizing the climate (if such a thing is even possible). The only way to tell either way is through the workings of political deliberation, the means that we as a democracy use to make sure that everyone’s concerns are voiced. KSR seeks to short-circuit that process by appeal to the shining palladium of Science.

    This is why Science as such must remain in an advisory role in politics: scientific knowledge should be grist for the political process, instead of replacing it, so that Science does not become the latest means to crush the voiceless under heel.

  10. Anonymous says:

    AGC: I mean what scientists done for us; aside from space travel, telecommunications, modern medicine. What have they done for us lately?
    I do hope this is parody.

    Rayonic: 3) Direct climate intervention. This is the more “out there” category, but it’s not totally unreasonable. After all, we’re currently changing our planet’s climate as a *side effect* of our other primary goals.

    http://www.scholarsandrogues.com/2010/08/04/three-geoeng-studies/

    Tax carbon emissions = export them to a less compliant country.

    Isn’t that what international treaties are for? They may not be perfect, but the idea is to get across-the-board compliance.

    I’d say the left is at least as guilty for associating environmentalism with leftism. Probably moreso. They’re out there complaining that evil capitalist corporations are polluting the environment and that globalization is ruining the global climate. Many are self-admittedly (and understandably) using the environment as leverage for their goals.

    Sigh. Pick an environmental issue. Let’s say it’s species preservation. Do you realize how disgusted anyone on the right is going to be the moment you mention a species’ right to exist? It has to do with their worldview (pro-growth, pro-business no matter what the costs, pro-meat, etc.), and not with the left’s politics. The only time when environmentalism isn’t a left/right issue is when environmental campaigns have zero impact on business. The right-wing, neoclassical, equilibrium models will always place economics above environment (that’s how they were designed). So if an environmental platform requires constraints on business, guess what? It becomes a left/right issue. Eso si que es.

    That’s not to say there isn’t a correlation between capitalism and carbon output, but that’s generally due to its success at increasing industrial output. State-owned factories, for example, are usually huge polluters, but there’s just less of them around.

    Agreed on both counts. I think that KSR may be wrong if he thinks that socialism will solve environmental problems (although I should point out that Statist production was never really socialist or communist – communes were suppressed in the USSR after Lenin, and social redistribution was minimal and caught up in the bureaucracy; moreover, Marx’s demand for worker ownership of factories was never fulfilled; it was always state ownership, which is not the same thing; the closest thing to “ideal” socialism would be Switzerland, not the USSR). But the growth model of capitalism (3-7% as a baseline rate) pretty much guarantees that capitalism will destroy the earth. Extraction, pollution, destruction, toxicity: pick your poison. It’s a physical problem, though, in many ways (with all the obvious political ramifications): how do you keep humans alive and at current or near-current population levels and simultaneously prevent ecological catastrophe?

    @Charlotte Corday (Charlotte Corday? Really? Sigh.) It’s a lot more challenging to sell the benefits of lower CO2 in the atmosphere to Patel in Mumbai who dreams of replacing his horsecart with a minivan, or Aisha in Dakar who wants an air conditioner for her childrens’ bedroom.
    Given that the most resistance to action on climate change comes from the U.S., Canada, Russia, and China, I would say that the issue is not Patel in Mumbai or Aisha in Dakar, but Charlotte Corday in the U.S. and other like-minded individuals. Many very poor people recognize that they can’t live like kings and have no desire to do so. Bolivia, for instance, is at the forefront of pushing strong action on climate change.

    • Charlotte Corday says:

      To – Anon @ 14.

      There is no way to settle the bet of course, but I’d make a sizable wager that my carbon footprint is a small fraction of Kim Stanley Robinson’s.

      That round trip flight to Melbourne alone (assuming .02 gal per passenger mile and 10000 miles) uses as much fuel as thirteen months of my daily commute (450 miles per month in a 30 mpg car). I haven’t flown anywhere in four years, by the way.

      And living on a semi-rural homestead where we raise a good deal of what we eat means that we don’t need nearly as much support from diesel fueled trucks and trains as do the average New Yorker or Londoner. We also have a natural gas well on our property which minimizes our use of the (coal fired) electric utility.

      People who use significantly LESS fossil fuel than I do are entitled to lecture me. Those who use an order of magnitude or more can go pound sand. And no bullshit about “buying offsetting carbon credits”, either.

      Finally, if “Charlotte Corday” bothers you, “Trotsky” should bother you all the more.

  11. Anonymous says:

    every KSR novel changed me for good in some way, specially the Mars trilogy.

  12. Rayonic says:

    A more lucid person would give up on the pipe dream of reducing global carbon emissions. Hell, we can’t seem to even stop the growth of the carbon emission rate.

    We should work on solutions that don’t involve changing the fundamentals of human nature while simultaneously turning back the industrial revolution (emissions-wise at least). Stuff like:

    1) Preparing for the inevitable global climate changes. (Areas getting hotter/colder, drier/moister, sea levels rising slowly.)

    2) Replacing fossil fuels with VIABLE alternatives. Much of this is already being worked on (battery research, wind farms, etc.) while others are mired in bureaucracy (nuclear power, wind farms, etc.)

    3) Direct climate intervention. This is the more “out there” category, but it’s not totally unreasonable. After all, we’re currently changing our planet’s climate as a *side effect* of our other primary goals.

    • Ugly Canuck says:

      An “unintended and unforeseen” side effect. Once it’s known, it is ALSO “human nature” to do all that is possible to avoid the evil.

      Knowledge modifies behavior.
      Why should oil co profitability – or the desire to continue to to live in our unaffordable-in-the-long-run luxury and ease, prevent us from doing so in this case?
      Tax the damned carbon emissions.

      “Fundamentals of Human nature”? You mean, like the desire to enjoy the advantages of social and political life, without shouldering any of its burdens?
      And here I thought you were a “conservative”….but perhaps only of stupidity, folly, and vice, it would seem.

      • Rayonic says:

        Yes, let’s “avoid” becoming dependent on fossil fuels. Oh wait, you’re 100 years too late! If only we knew then what we know now.

        Tax carbon emissions = export them to a less compliant country.

        The problem with most carbon-reducing plans is that they’re infeasible and/or ineffective. And yet the same plans get recycled over and over again. I mean I respect the tenacity, but maybe a little more diversification is in order.

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