Jacobin - November 21, 2021
Neoliberal capitalism has shown that it’s inadequate to the situation, based on false premises and an unjust, stupid system. - Kim Stanley Robinson
In this interview with The Dig’s Daniel Aldana Cohen, Robinson explains how his career as a fiction writer has allowed him to address the pressing threat of climate catastrophe and imagine a robust response from the Left. Skeptical of the “category error” in leftist rhetoric that pits scientists against socialists, he outlines top-down and individual approaches to fighting climate collapse — all of which require that humans recognize our place within the greater biosphere and claim science as a socialist tool of progress.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: What is your mood on climate politics in fall 2021? What developments are keeping you up at night? What developments are making you optimistic that we can avoid the worst?
Kim Stanley Robinson: I’m scared by the latest IPCC report, which confirms that we are in terrible trouble — on the edge of catastrophe. And we need to act fast. I’m encouraged by the discoveries that I’ve made since writing The Ministry for the Future. I wrote that book mostly in 2019. That’s like a previous geological era now, because of the pandemic. Certainly the timeline that I portrayed in Ministry for the Future, which was vague and notional anyway, is shot, because things are happening faster in the mitigation front. The catastrophes are coming faster than scientists predicted, but within the range of their predictions. The response is picking up, because the pandemic was a slap in the face. I didn’t know about the Network for Greening the Financial System: 89 of the biggest central banks trying to figure out how to tweak finance towards green work. I didn’t know that there were actual papers in Nature quantifying the possibilities of pumping water out from under the big glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland. I wrote about them in Ministry for the Future, but I wrote about them as if they were not yet in existence — when they already had been for a few years. So I was behind the curve in some ways. We’re coming into the UN environmental meeting next March in Nairobi. There will be moments for the international community to come together and stare at each other, and admit that not enough is happening fast enough, not enough is getting paid for. It might be a chance to kick up the energy of the responses.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: In a lot of ways, your Mars trilogy comes from the context of the late 1980s and the 1990s, the end of the Cold War. But the trilogy also feels like such a fresh tome of climate fiction that virtually all of it could have been written yesterday. What do you think has changed the most in the way that you think about the big questions of politics and ecology, and what has changed the least?
Kim Stanley Robinson: I’m an American leftist. I was then; I still am. What does that mean? Well, I’ve always been of the belief that there’s a false distinction between the environmental and the social. I’ve always wanted there to be a green-red, united-front kind of movement. I never saw a contradiction there, nor the reason why the so-called human-oriented left should be critical of the biocentric-oriented left. Maybe that’s become more obvious. Neoliberal capitalism has had a thirty-year run and shown that it’s inadequate to the situation, based on false premises and an unjust, stupid system. But it’s also the law of the land. Globalization is real, in the economic sense, and the pandemic brought that home to us. We’ve had thirty years of incessant history, despite the sense of frozen immobility that has also accompanied the hypnosis of the neoliberal era. We’ve also seen the breakdown of economics as a legitimate discipline, which blew up in 2008 and the years since, and has been shown to be a highly ideological science overpowered by power politics. Quantification has been used to mask injustice, and that’s becoming more obvious, even though the next political economy has yet to be fully exposed or born. That brings us to thinking about the Green New Deal. ...
Read full interview at Jacobin