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The Ministry for the Future: A Book for Our Tribe and Our Time

Ministry for the Future (book cover)

A Book Review by Brad Meiklejohn

Imagination is a powerful antidote to reality. We can use it to escape or to picture a better destination. The Ministry for the Future, a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, engages our imaginations to see the climate alternatives ahead, one if we do nothing, the other if we do everything.

Robinson, an acclaimed science fiction writer, crosses over into faction with this sweeping novel about climate chaos. He no longer has to make this stuff up. Walk outside anywhere and you are immersed in a world gone haywire. The book’s opening chapter, wherein 20 million people die in India in a fictional “wet bulb 35” event, foreshadowed events in British Colombia in 2021 when 590 people actually died due to this lethal combination of heat and humidity. Yes, British Columbia.

With that dark vision of what lies just barely ahead, our imaginations are freed to find better alternatives. Who better suited to re-imagining the world than the rewilding tribe? Robinson, through this book, is urging all of us in the rewilding business to keep at it because our salvation lies in that direction. In effect we are already working for The Ministry for the Future.

In the very near future this eponymous body will oversee the effort to salvage our planet. The Ministry will have everything on the table, from pumping meltwater out from under Antarctic glaciers to volcanic eruption simulations to monkeywrenching and Half-Earth rewilding. Our currency will transform to carbon coin, air travel will be by solar dirigible, the human population will decline, and Gaia will be our new religion.

Robinson has done his homework for this book. His command of topics as diverse as global finance, ecological restoration, and geophysical engineering is impressive. Robinson knows the terrain, too, from Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier to the intricate Swiss mountain cirques and the Arctic coastal plain. His characters are intimate with the visceral, deadly realities of climate chaos and motivated by a deep love for the wild critters watching us humans with pleading eyes. Robinson is a big picture guy who puts all the smaller pieces together with a story-telling mastery that keeps you turning pages to a hopeful conclusion.

The Ministry for the Future is validation for our tribe. Finally, all of our big ideas are put into play, from Y2Y to a Siberian Pleistocene Park, from the reintroduction of carnivores to the elimination of cows, from ARK Armenia to Zambia’s Betterworld Mine Regeneration. We read on in fascination as coal plants are sabotaged, dams are dynamited, oil fields sidelined, and private jets explode in mid-air. The book takes us through a very dark bottleneck before we emerge to a better world. “Fewer people, more wild animals,” writes Robinson. “Right now that feels like coming back from a time of illness.”

For the rewilding tribe, our greatest value to The Ministry for the Future is our knowledge of the natural world. The book hitches our wagonload of memories of the gone wild to the horses of our imaginations for the wild to come. Here is an invitation to take a hard look around so we know what to aim for when called in from the bench.  Know your turf.

I had a sense of vertigo reading this book. Whenever I set it down, I would look up to see the book all around me. I could no longer catalog climate chaos as a coming attraction. In this way, Robinson liberates us from the paralysis of a future threat by thrusting the obligations of a present reality upon us. There is nowhere else to look and we simply have to get to work.

The Ministry for the Future is clear-eyed about the steps that are essential to salvage our future. If we do all of them, we just might squeak out a livable planet. “All of us in balance,” writes Robinson, “we the people, meaning we the living beings, in a single ecosystem which is the planet.” We are in this ministry for that future.

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