A Global Warming Trilogy

Novelist Kim Stanley Robinson explains in an essay available for forty-nine cents on Amazon how he came to write a science fiction trilogy about global warming:

Somehow my job has made me think about climate change
for years now. I spent most of the 1990s writing a trilogy about the
human inhabitation of Mars; my characters in those books were part of a
huge multi-generational effort to change the climate on Mars, by
melting its ice and pumping its frozen atmosphere back into the skies.
All this was part of the science fictional enterprise that Jack
Williamson named "terraforming" in a story he wrote in the 1930s.
Terraforming is climate change with a vengeance, and pretty early in
the process of writing my Mars books, while reading about the various
environmental problems that were going to be caused by global warming,
it occurred to me that we were already terraforming Earth, in the here
and now, but by accident, and in ignorance of how it worked or what
might happen. All the aspects of terraforming were already present in
one form or another: we alter the Earth’s surface faster than any
natural process, we’re altering the chemical composition of the
atmosphere, making it more of a greenhouse than it was before, and this
change in turn is altering the chemical composition of the ocean, which
is rapidly becoming more acidic. Most of these processes are
destructive to the biological communities already in place, on land and
in the seas; and so the first result of our inadvertent terraforming
seems likely to be a mass extinction event, an extinction to rival the
huge mass extinctions that ended the Cretaceous and the Permian.

The human species itself is not likely to escape such an event
unscathed; we live on the top of a food chain that might be damaged or
might even crash in such an extinction event. This was a dark thought,
and as I wrote my Mars novels it was always present in my mind that
what I was describing as happening on Mars—the conscious and successful
management of an entire planet’s biosphere—might serve as a model for
what we will have to do on Earth too. In that sense as well as others
they were utopian novels, and I believe part of their popularity is due
to this fairly obvious analogy to our current situation.

also, as I went for my runs on the ultra-flat floor of the Central
Valley of California, I would occasionally glimpse the Sierra Nevada to
the east, white with snow even in summer. One time during these years I
read a scientific study that suggested that global warming would impact
California more severely than most places, because only a slight rise
in average temperatures would change most of the snow falling on the
Sierra to rain, so the precipitation would quickly run off, and the
mountains would no longer serve as an immense reservoir through the dry
summers, and California would become even more of a desert than it
already is. People would have to leave—I didn’t care about that,
because too many people have moved to California anyway and it needs an
exodus—but the high Sierra meadows would likely die in the summer
droughts. I love those high meadows, and the thought that I might be
part of the last generation to see them, that the beautiful high Sierra
might become like the blasted wastelands of Nevada, filled me with rage
and grief.

"Rage and grief" because he cares, natch. Poet Gary Snyder, who lives in those Sierras, seems more sanguine about their fate. I wish I shared his optimism…and need to read Robinson’s trilogy.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

One thought on “A Global Warming Trilogy

  1. Robinson’s trilogy is a good read on several levels. It’s what I’d call good sci-fi: fact-based, well grounded, making small(ish) extrapolations based on known reality. Since reality is getting rather strange just now, that leads him to eye-popping consequences.

    He’s also a novelist of ideas — in the best sense. You can see him working through the global-warming scenarios for sure… but also ideas about our inner paleolithic guy… buddhism… how politics works inside science institutions and elsewhere… other cool stuff.

    But he knows how to keep a plot moving too, and the characterization ranges from competent to interesting. So it’s a fun toboggan ride, all the way through the trilogy.



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