Climate Solutions from Ministry for the Future
Real-world ideas stitched into story
This article is part of a series:
Swimming in an ocean of apocalyptic media and political gridlock, it can be difficult to imagine a future in which we successfully meet the great challenges of our time. That’s why Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book, The Ministry for the Future, impacted me so deeply. Weaving a diverse tapestry of the latest ideas for meeting our planetary crises, he manages to paint a narrative that, while far from utopian, feels both optimistic and realistic. Ezra Klein, too, called it “the most important book I’ve read this year.”
The ideas in The Ministry are not new. Nearly all of them exist today as either proposals or mature projects. What Robinson does particularly well is show, step by step, how these ideas might piece together to form a new world order. In a recent interview, he explained his literary aim as follows:
“It’s hard to imagine how we get to a better system. Imagining the better system isn’t that hard; you just make up some rules about how things should work…But the story of getting to a new and better social system, that’s almost an empty niche in our mental ecology. So I’ve been throwing myself into that attempt.”
Robinson takes an opinionated stance on the roots of our climate gridlock, which forms the foundation of his narrative. He clarified this position in a recent talk:
- The international political community has set a target threshold of limiting global warming to 2 °C compared to pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic tipping points. We can burn another 500 gigatons of fossil fuels before we reach this threshold.
- 3,500 gigatons of fossil fuels are still available for extraction. In today’s economy, this represents $1.6 quadrillion dollars in value, with little incentive to leave it in the ground.
- 80 percent of these reserves are state-owned, and the rest are on land regulated by states. Therefore, the problem fundamentally rests within the power of nation states.
While the particular numbers can be debated, the premise is helpful: interventions must be made by and among nation states. This doesn’t stop Robinson from chipping away at the problem from the grassroots as well. In Robinson’s world, as in ours, there is no silver bullet. Many diverse solutions come together to create emergent transformation. There is a role for each of us.
Paths to the Future
In the articles that follow, I outline seven tenets I perceive as core to Robinson’s approach, as well as the specific climate solutions implementing each tenet. For each solution, I provide additional context on where the solution stands in the real world. You will see that just about every technology, project, and social movement in the story already exists today in some form, awaiting our support.
Nation states working together to improve social and environmental welfare…
- Global Agreements
- Ministry for the Future
- Alternative Prosperity Indices
- AI-Supported Central Planning
- Global Passport
- Energy Policy
…and bringing more of the biosphere into the commons, actively regulating it toward a life-sustaining equilibrium.
- Solar Radiation Management
- Mass Deposition
- Watershed Management
A market manipulated by governments to incentivize the reduction of greenhouse gases and preservation of natural resources…
- Modern Monetary Theory
- Blockchain Fiat Currency
- Carbon Quantitative Easing
- Carbon Taxes
- Temporal Discounting
- Debt Relief
…resulting in the proliferation of technologies for reducing greenhouse gases.
- Carbon-Free Energy
- Regenerative Agriculture
- Direct Air Capture
Military power shifting from nation states toward actors working on behalf of the planet.
- Mutually Assured Destruction
- Black Operations
- Cyber Attacks
Decentralized organization for local climate interventions and community resilience…
- Participatory Local Government
- Nonviolent Direct Action
- Indigenous Stewardship
- Worker-Owned Cooperatives
- Open-Source Social Networking
…and the emergence of a collective planetary consciousness through direct personal interactions with climate.
- Social Disruption
- Planet-Centered Spirituality
- Collective Energy Conservation