Building Visions of Humanity’s Climate Future – in 'Cli-Fi' Stories and on Campus
– What are the dominant time horizons that orient your research or professional activities (deep past -> far future)?– How predictable are the phenomena you study or care about? To what extent do you think the future is knowable?– What do you think are the strongest drivers of change? Where are the levers of change?
Imagination is essential to our ability to create, design and bring about the futures we want….Speculative fiction stories have the power to take abstract policy debates and obscure jargon and turn them into gripping, visceral tales. The emerging subgenre of climate fiction, epitomized by novels like Margaret Atwood’s “Maddaddam Trilogy,” helps us imagine possible futures shaped by climate change.
Ramona Koval: Why do you say that dystopian fiction isn’t necessary at the moment?Kim Stanley Robinson: I think it’s just too obvious, it’s easy to imagine, it’s dramatic, it makes for good plots, but on the other hand we don’t learn any lessons from it, it’s been done before, done to death really. It’s a little bit not just complacent but dodging the issue of how do we create a better society rather than contemplate the damage that we are daily inflicting on the planet and on each other.
Kim Stanley Robinson: H.G. Wells is a leader in shifting the view of utopia from a static end state that is indeed rule-bound and a-historical, to simply a name for a positive direction in history. That is what I have been following in my utopian work, is to redefine utopia. It’s not an end state, because we will never have an end state, history will always continue and so what you want is history with things getting better and better. There is a concept out of the philosophy of science called scaffolding that you and the work of your generation, you build a scaffold on the shoulders of those who came before, so things are a little bit higher, a little bit better. You can’t get to heaven in a single generation, but you make things a little bit better and then you are the scaffold for your children to build the next scaffold. And as if we were a coral reef, we just build towards goodness. This is what utopia has always been about, and some people tried to immediately strike to the goodness…there were Fourieristic colonies in the United States immediately because it sounded good, but they would always fall apart in the context of the overall world. This has been a problem for leftists to struggle with.
I’m afraid this is fast becoming the most trite and overdone of all fiction trends — evil humans are responsible for a) all the world’s ills, and/or b) the destruction of the world. Or, related to it, vastly superior aliens justify their complete destruction of the evil, wasteful human race. Sorry for being an optimist, but I have more faith in the human race than that. And more faith in aliens, for that matter.
Unlike in Mark Twain’s time, there is nothing remotely banal about the weather. If anything, we are in mourning for that banality. What used to be idle chitchat about the unusually warm day or last weekend’s storm has become both premonitory and polarizing. Nor is there any innate melodrama left in meteorology. Weather is, instead, at the heart of the great drama of our time. Accordingly, the comedy has leached from Twain’s line. “No weather will be found in this book” now reads either as denialist—a refusal to face climatic reality—or, very simply, as sad.But we do not need that line anymore. After a long wait, quite a lot of weather can suddenly be found in our books again. We owe that revival to the same thing that first led to the decline of weather in literature: developments in the field of meteorology. It is not just that the facts about climate change have become clear; it is that, in establishing those facts, the scientific model of weather, which eclipsed the symbolic one in the nineteenth century, is now colliding with it. These days, the atmosphere really does reflect human activity, and, as in our most ancient stories, our own behavior really is bringing disastrous weather down on our heads. Meteorological activity, so long yoked to morality, finally has genuine ethical stakes.