Kim Stanley Robinson on science, justice and science fiction

Zack sez, "SF writer and environmentalist Kim Stanley Robinson did this long interview last year while he was at Duke University — it's finally online, and it is absolutely fascinating." I just spent a few days with Stan at the WorldCon in Melbourne and was reminded of just how interesting and clever he is.

Scientists, I think, would resist the idea that they need to become politicized, as they often think in ways that would make science and politics a dichotomy, with science being clean, pure, rational, empirical, etc., and politics being the opposite, and bad. So it has taken the global climate crisis to wake them up as a community to the need that exists for them to join the political process specifically as scientists, and as the scientific community. I think the story of this first decade of the twenty-first century is them seeing and understanding that need, partly because of the anti-science actions of the Bush administration, and partly because of the danger they see in the coming climate change and the inability of the normal political process to react adequately to this crisis.

What they have done, then, is in keeping with their image of science and how it works; they have begun their political action through already existing channels, meaning the professional associations they all belong to, like the American Chemical Society or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, (there are scores of these), and also through scientist advocacy groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists. These organizations have been charged by their members to speak to the political powers-that-be in terms strong enough to make an impression on political actions taken; that the carbon we are putting in the atmosphere and ocean, and the environmental damage we are creating more generally, are dangerous to the current biosphere; dangerous enough that it is right to speak of a possible "mass extinction event" like those found in the fossil record, in which really significant percentages of the species on Earth went extinct. That can happen again, and humanity would be fully entangled and ruined in such a crash–while maybe not rendered extinct, but in danger of huge losses of life and quality of life.

This message has been put out to the human community by the scientific community, with an insistence and urgency never seen from scientists before–which is one sign among many others of the reality of the danger, as most scientists would very much rather pursue their science than do this kind of work. But it has to be done, they have judged, and they have taken the first steps. The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is only the largest of these efforts. Some statements on this issue have been signed by as many as 130 international scientific organizations.

What comes next is of course very interesting–because capitalism doesn't want to hear them. We are somewhat past the high point of the recent "free market" ascendancy because of the financial crash, but the underlying power of capitalism is not yet much diminished, and exterior constraints on capitalist growth are still so unwelcome that they are usually denied as real constraints. So we are entering a zone of history where the struggle between science and capitalism for dominance of our culture–which I think has been clear all along, but which many do not see or agree is the situation–may become explicit and open. I hope so; this is a scientific culture as well as a capitalist culture, and I've been arguing for years that the utopian ethics and politics buried in the scientific method makes science the equivalent of the most powerful leftist politics we have ever had. Now the climate crisis may make that much more obvious to everyone.

Science, Justice, Science Fiction: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

(Thanks, Zack!)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons/AllyUnion, GDL)