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Wonkette Book Club Part 4: Climate Dreams And Flying Machines
Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry For The Future, Week 4
Spoiler warning: There's a lot about bankingthis week in Kim Stanley Robinson's 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future , and yet it somehow stays interesting because 1) I'm a big nerd and thinking about alternatives to capitalism really floats my boat, or 2) I am completely out of my head and it's only a little interesting, but it sounds more like a late night dormitory bull session than a novel. So there's one discussion question already, before we've even gotten to the discussion questions!
This week's reading includes more wild climate events, like the flooding of Los Angeles after a series of "atmospheric rivers" hits California, very much like what happened this very winter, only far worse. But a lot of the story is human driven, like the horror of "Crash Day," when terrorists with the Children of Kali use swarms of small drones to foul the engines of at least 60 jets, making them crash, most of them either private business jets or airliners carrying business travelers, but there are many innocent victims too. Seven thousand people die, and people stop flying.
Before that day, there had been half a million people in the air at any given moment. Afterward that number plummeted. Especially after a second round of crashes occurred a month later, this time bringing down twenty planes. After that commercial flights often flew empty, then were cancelled. Private jets had stopped flying. Military planes and helicopters had also been attacked, so they too curtailed their activities, and flew only if needed, as if in a war. As indeed they were. (pp. 228-229)
I think that, next to the powerful opening chapter we discussed our first week, Crash Day is the part of the novel that has most stuck with me since my first reading. A 9/11 to commercial aviation, all around the world, except for the few clean-fueled planes and the increasingly popular airships. That's followed by the torpedoing of container ships, usually with minimal loss of life and calculated to make them sink "where they could form the foundations for new coral reefs."
The Children of Kali release their no-fossil-fuels travel manifesto, and also warn that, oh by the way, beef cattle everywhere have been infected with mad cow disease, were you sure you want to keep eating beef, to say nothing of clearing rainforest to raise cattle?
With the world economy in freefall, Mary Murphy gets the world's central banks to listen again to the Carbon Coin scheme, and they finally buy in, especially as the Ministry's new secure social media site, YourLock, remakes the internet and people start putting their money into blockchained credit unions, not the speculative cryptocurrencies we've had up to the novel's "now" (mid 2030s).
Oh, yes, and the Ministry gets bombed, the same day cyberattacks go after the Swiss government and banking systems. Mary flees into the Alps with her Swiss security team, and yes, the Swiss Alpine Club's Fründenhütte is a real place, as are old Cold War Swiss Air Force "aircraft caverns" in the Alps, too. They really do/did look like something out of a James Bond movie, too, with planes sometimes stored hanging from the ceilings.
This week's read ends with Chapter 69 (nice) in which the House of Saud is overthrown and the new government of Arabia, just Arabia, says fine, we're going solar and not pumping any more oil. Now compensate us in the new carbon coins for every ton of CO2 our oil reserves won't be putting in the atmosphere. And what the hell, it works. Arabia is quickly followed by Brazil, where a neo-Lula-ist government has come into power and pledges to stop all deforestation, carbon coins please. Extra carbon coins also go to "the indigenous groups of the Amazon, who had been keeping the rainforest’s carbon sequestered for centuries" (p. 343). So you have carbon coins becoming the basis of the new clean economy and doing social justice to boot.
We're now in the pivotal part of the novel, so let's talk! A few discussion questions that come to mind, although y'all know by now that you don't need to limit yourself to them, or even to mention them at all. (As always, if you're behind on the reading, or haven't read the book at all, no problem, we're not grading any of this. Also, no worries about spoilers, since for the most part this is an idea-driven book, not a plot-driven one.)
1) As I said in the first paragraph, I love a good imagining of a world without capitalism. (We should Book Club Ursula K. Le Guin's anarchist sci-fi The Dispossessed , maybe!) I'm grooving on the idea that blockchain could be used to create a worldwide credit union instead of being a stupid energy-wasting scam for crazy speculation, and the carbon coin is pretty neat, too. What'd you think? Too talky, not enough world-saving? (Tough: The elimination of capitalism IS the world-saving.) And how realistic does the carbon coin mechanism seem to you?
2) Along those lines, raise your hand if you want to live in a place with the Mondragón model (chapter 58). Could it scale? Would Americans ever go for it? The thought of how the House Freedom Caucus would react is scary. Also, hooray for Keynes and the "euthanasia of the rentier class" (Chapter 64).
3) I love the liberation scenarios, like the rare-earth miners in Chapter 65 and the earlier story of the enslaved workers being freed from the fishing ship in Chapter 19. What do we need to do to get there, assuming the Children of Kali don't show up first?
3a) Nope, I do not like the buzzy little "I'm a photon!" and "I'm a carbon atom!" chapters, and I feel secondhand embarrassment for Robinson just reading them.
4) This story in Wired, about a woman who's working like crazy to develop enhanced geothermal energy because she has no time to lose, is wonderful and you should read it and maybe cry some too like Rebecca and I both did. Especially when the title's double meaning hits you like a ton of drilling equipment. This is more of a comment than a question.
Oh, but speaking of drilling equipment: those Antarctica chapters, huh?
5) Again with the violence, and in the novel, people are afraid to fly and commercial aviation just stops after Crash Day. Impressive in the book, but in our world, isn't a George W. Bush-style pledge to hunt down and kill the Children of Kali just as likely — and likely to get international support? Or is the world of Ministry already so fractured by the climate meltdown that such a declaration of war would be futile — particularly if military aircraft and helicopters were then downed by drone swarms? Or (I have many other hands this week) would such actions be met with even greater reactionary force, wide band radio frequency blocking, and fascist "security" blowback? Are Robinson's terrorists simply too superpowered?
You'll probably have a lot to talk about beyond these, too!
I'll be checking in all weekend to see how the discussion develops, especially since, duh, this time the post isn't going up five minutes before the Open Thread. Here are our previous installments:
For next week, on Friday afternoon again unless Trump's indicted again, let's read Chapters 70 through 88, and that's a classic Oldsmobile Super 88 converted to an EV powertrain, not White Power code, puke phooey.
The one rule I am going to enforcestrictlyfor this post is that, to keep the conversation focused, I will remove any off topic comments and ask you to move 'em to the open thread. It's Saturday, so that's this morning's Top Ten or later this afternoon. I KNOW you wanna talk about Indictment News, but do it in one of the many threads on that. I'd honestly like to keep the book & climate conversation going all weekend, and if you wanna come back and say more, please do so!
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