IIt opens like a slow motion disaster movie. In the near future, a heat wave of insurmountable “wet bulb” temperatures (taking into account the humidity) in a small Indian town kills almost all its inhabitants in a week. The Indian government sends airplanes to spray sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to mimic the dimming effect of large volcanic eruptions. This, of course, does not have absolute approval around the world.
A new international climate crisis body has been “tasked with defending all present and future living creatures that cannot speak for themselves,” and was quickly named the Ministry for the Future. It is directed by our protagonist, Mary Murphy, former Foreign Minister of Ireland. Your team may or may not have a covert operations wing, but a shadow terror network called “Children of Kali” does not have a white operations wing: it uses swarms of drones to crash passenger planes and container ships in deadly protest at the attacks. continuous carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, scientists at the poles are trying to pump water from below the polar caps to prevent them from sliding into the ocean and catastrophically raising sea levels. Kim Stanley Robinson, who wrote the classic Red Mars trilogy of novels about geoengineering the red planet to make it habitable by humans, now offers a story on whether we can geoengineer Earth back to Earth.
Within these pages there is a lot of solid science, atmospheric and ocean physics, usually explained in a useful way by a passing expert; but also speculative military strategy – the invention of “pebble mob” missiles, which rapidly converge on a target from all directions, makes almost all military equipment redundant – lots of economic history and lots of comforting details about Switzerland’s gray civility in winter.
Robinson shows that an ambitious systems novel about global warming must in fact be an ambitious systems novel about modern civilization as well, because everything is so interdependent. Fortunately, when he opens one of his discursive interludes with the statement “Taxes are interesting,” he fulfills it in two pages. There is no shortage of sardonic humor here, a cosmopolitan range of sympathies, and a steely, visionary optimism.
The dark comic relief comes from fragmentary dialogues between unidentified speakers. “Have you ever heard,” asks one, “that warming oceans means that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish and therefore available for human consumption can drop by as much as sixty percent? And that these fatty acids are crucial for signal transduction in the brain, so it is possible that our collective intelligence is now rapidly declining due to a decline in brain power caused by ocean warming? “The other responds:” That would explain a lot of things. “In fact it would.
• The Ministry for the Future is published by Orbit (RRP £ 20). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.
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