Kim Stanley Robinson talks ecotastrophe

SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson is interviewed in today's Wired News. Stan is a science fiction writer whose work manages to personalize the ethics of environmentalism in such a way as to make you feel them in your marrow. His magnificent opus, the Red Mars trilogy, tells the story of the internecine struggles among Mars colonists over the right of Mars to exist in natural beauty versus the human imperative to terraform it. Pacific Edge, a quiet and humble book about an ecological utopia in Orange County, is so incandescently cheerful that I keep a copy around at all times to use as an anti-depressant.

Stan has just published the concluding volume in a trilogy of novels about a global warming disaster. The books — Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting — tell the stories of the policy wonks, scientists and Beltway dealers who preside over the catastrophic collapse of the planet's ecosystem.

No one writes scientist heroes like Stan. If you want to believe that science, truth, and knowledge can save us from drowning in our own cess, these books will give you hope.

WN: In the new trilogy, the U.S. government embarks on a New Deal-style initiative to prevent the climate from going more awry than it already has. Many people dream of this now — but in the books, it only happens when the United States experiences storms and weather patterns more catastrophic than ever seen before. Is that what it'll take for us to engage climate change in a meaningful way?

Robinson: I hope not. That's going to be too late. I'm hoping the scientific community continues to go off like a fire alarm in a hotel, just as they have for the last five years, and that that will do the trick. If they do, the democracies, the political leadership and even big business will all recognize that this is a real threat. And we're seeing enough of the effects, even without catastrophic weather. Take glaciers, for example, which are melting so fast, and it turns out they are the source of water for one-third of the world's population.

Even India and China therefore have compelling reasons to get serious. Their own populations will be hammered by the loss of the Himalayan glaciers. So many effects are combining. I don't think we need the kind of minus-50-degree winter I described in the books.

Humanity is sane, and can make use of its intelligence. We have to act as if this is true. That's the whole story of the 21st century: Are we a sane civilization or not?


See also:
Red Mars: a very belated appreciation
Stan Robinson on adventure travel
Kim Stanley Robinson's new book, Forty Signs of Rain
Kim Stanley Robinson on what Martian water means for science fiction
Kim Stanley Robinson on eco-disasters on Earth and Mars