Thursday, February 07, 2019

Nature Bats Last

In 2004, Kim Stanley Robinson, IMO the dean of current sci-fi authors and our greatest climate fiction author, published "Forty Signs of Rain", the 1st book of the "Science in the Capitol" (or "NSF Saves The World") trilogy. I blogged on it briefly here. Then, in 2008, as recounted here, I found myself with 7 hours left on a trans-atlantic flight with nothing to read but the 3rd book of the trilogy, "Sixty Days and Counting" - without having read the 2nd book, "Fifty Degrees Below Zero". Oh no! So I went on and read it, blogged briefly here, and figured that I would never read the 2nd.

I was pleasantly surprised when (I think) my daily BookBub email listed "Green Earth", 2015, 1071 pages. As detailed in the Intro, KSR was inspired by another author to combine the trilogy into 1 volume, removing some now unnecessary infodumps, and taking the total page count from 1100 to 800 - note Amazon says 1071 pages, which is more what this felt like. So I got to read the 2nd part after all!

This feels like KSR's 1st whack at climate fiction. His later stuff - "2312", "New York 2140", and "Red Moon" - shows how far his thinking about the climate crisis, and the future of the human race, has evolved. KSR maintains throughout that to address the climate crisis, we have to fix everything: broken politics, broken economics, broken cultures. Not unlike Naomi Klein in "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate". But, I found it interesting that "Green Earth" has us using several forms of geoengineering, which has made me uncomfortable since Klein characterized it as "using pollution to fight pollution". But I don't think that there's any question that we will be forced to attempt remedial geoengineering.

There is quite an interesting and varied cast of characters:

  • scientists;
  • NSF bureaucrats and staffers;
  • politicians and their staffers;
  • homeless Vietnam vets;
  • fregan, feral, overland frisbee golf players;
  • national security spooks;
  • tibetan buddhists including 2 lamas.
The main character, Frank, still is somewhat annoying in being 43 and having multiple girlfriends - altho the 1st time I blogged 3, this time I only count 2. Not sure what the inclusion of the tibetan buddhists was about, I'm assuming that KSR is a fan. There was 1 small subplot involving exorcising and then de-exorcising a tibetan demon from a 2-3 YO child??? Not sure what that was about.

Ha ha, 1 thing that definitely made reading the 2nd book worthwhile - a reference to TOOCITBOTBM, FTW!

We don’t do it,” Robin said. “The gods do it through us.”

“Robin is pre-breakdown of the bicameral mind.”

Some author, maybe Charlie Stross, recently commented how hard it is to write near future science fiction. The trilogy was 1st written 2004-2007, the rewrite came out in 2015. I would place the action as taking place in 2032-2033. Ha ha, there was a reference to buying some electronics at Radio Shack - oops!

I found myself bothered by some of the numbers, or inconsistencies therein. In Chapter 4, we have "average temperatures up by six degrees Fahrenheit already, CO2 levels in the atmosphere topping 600 parts per million" - wow, that seems way too high. In Chapter 13, it's at "450 parts per million". In Chapter 21, it's "500 parts per million". Annoying inconsistencies hobgoblinning my small mind.

Also interesting were various economic numbers. So are these starting points for KSR's extrapolation physicist (1/2 order of magnitude, a factor of 3) accurate?

  • "the financial benefit to civilization of “biosphere services,” now valued at $175 trillion a year." I think they later get around to concluding that these $$$ === the net wealth of civilization. No biosphere, no civilization.
  • "I’ve tried some back-of-the-envelope numbers, estimating the capital worth of the major port cities and other coastal infrastructure, and gotten figures like two quadrillion dollars." ??? Just checked, the 2018 Credit Suisse World Wealth Report puts total world household wealth - which would include corporations since they are ultimately owned by people - at $317T. Adding an equal amount for dark wealth and again for public wealth would put us near $1Q. 4% growth for 14 years would put it at around $1.3Q. So $2Q for just port cities and coastal infrastructure seems high.
  • "In fact they would have to leave some 2,500 gigatons of fossil carbon in the ground, as what the report called “stranded assets.” Estimated worth in current markets, $1,600 trillion." I had seen this number recently as more like $15T ???
  • "military budgets of the world equal about two trillion dollars a year, ... half of that coming from the United States." $1.7T in 2017, so a reasonable number.
That would be a nice website or Wikipedia page - show all the wealth in the world. This is an attempt, I guess. I'll look some more. Ha ha, derivatives appear to be be worth about 2-5x everything else put together. Never try to tell me that money is not software.

This surprised me:

the economy insisted on a minimum of 5.4 percent unemployment, to create the proper “wage pressure.”
??? I have never heard of any Fed policy to enforce a minimum unemployment rate, or the "natural" employment rate ???

I hope the people currently creating the Green New Deal use this book as a reference. I liked this as a good way to approach inequality.

4. Individual ownership of the majority of the surplus value of one’s labor.
So basically mandatory profit sharing with all employees. Nice!

This reminded me of the indefatigable Umair Haque (@umairh) - or vice versa, since KRS got there 1st. #downwithpatriarchy!

Thus patriarchy as a solution to the parentage problem led to hatred, war, misogyny, harems, male control of reproductive rights, including anti-abortion laws (those photos of a dozen fat men grinning as they signed a law), and, ultimately, taken all in all, patriarchy led directly to the general very nonadaptive insanity that they lived in now.
In addition to referring to TOOCITBOTBM, KSR gets bonus points for riffing on the movie "Groundhog Day" - indeed a great movie.

Well, we now have the Green New Deal moving forward in congress. Nothing will be enacted with the current senate and president, but still, good to crunch the numbers and make the plan. "Green Earth" starts out with Washington as gridlocked as it is now. The climate-crisis-induced natural catastrophes that occur in the 1st 2 parts serve as a wakeup call that mobilize action in part 3 - through giving Democrats control of both houses and the presidency and a popular mandate.

Are catastrophes of the level KSR describes going to be what it takes? One fears that without such totally unignorable gobsmacks that things will remain as they are now, with all of us as frogs in the saucepan being brought to a boil and not noticing that it keeps getting hotter.

But, there is recently good news. It seems like the number of non-climate-change-deniers in the US is up to around 70%. Of course, we know how open to logic, reason, and data the other 30% are - not particularly. More importantly, the fat cats who own the $15-1600T of fossil fuels still in the ground really, really want their money. Well, we know what it's going to take at a minimum. Copied from 1 month ago:

One thing that I have gotten completely tired of writing: all this can be done, and we can move forward instead of backwards, if YOUNG PEOPLE START VOTING! Finally, the 2018 mid-terms were somewhat encouraging. Young, savvy leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seem to be getting the yung'uns fired up. Finally!

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