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Comparative Planetology: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson
Geoff Manaugh, Bldg Blog
According to The New York Times Book Review, the novels of Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson “constitute one of the most impressive bodies of work in modern science fiction.” I might argue, however, that Robinson is fundamentally a landscape writer.
That is, Robinson’s books are not only filled with descriptions of landscapes – whole planets, in fact, noted, sensed, and textured down to the chemistry of their soils and the currents in their seas – but they are often about nothing other than vast landscape processes, in the midst of which a few humans stumble along. “Politics,” in these novels, is as much a question of social justice as it is shorthand for learning to live in specific environments.
…Kim Stanley Robinson: … we’re all living in a science fiction novel together, a book that we co-write. A lot of what we’re experiencing now is unsurprising because we’ve been prepped for it by science fiction.
… Robinson: It’s a failure of imagination to think that climate change is going to be an escape from jail – and it’s a failure in a couple of ways.
For one thing, modern civilization, with six billion people on the planet, lives on the tip of a gigantic complex of prosthetic devices – and all those devices have to work. The crash scenario that people think of, in this case, as an escape to freedom would actually be so damaging that it wouldn’t be fun. It wouldn’t be an adventure. It would merely be a struggle for food and security, and a permanent high risk of being robbed, beaten, or killed; your ability to feel confident about your own – and your family’s and your children’s – safety would be gone. People who fail to realize that… I’d say their imaginations haven’t fully gotten into this scenario.
It’s easy to imagine people who are bored in the modern techno-surround, as I call it, and they’re bored because they have not fully comprehended that they’re still primates, that their brains grew over a million-year period doing a certain suite of activities, and those activities are still available. Anyone can do them; they’re simple. They have to do with basic life support and basic social activities unboosted by technological means.
And there’s an addictive side to this. People try to do stupid technological replacements for natural primate actions, but it doesn’t quite give them the buzz that they hoped it would. Even though it looks quite magical, the sense of accomplishment is not there. So they do it again, hoping that the activity, like a drug, will somehow satisfy the urge that it’s supposedly meant to satisfy. But it doesn’t. So they do it more and more – and they fall down a rabbit hole, pursuing a destructive and high carbon-burn activity, when they could just go out for a walk, or plant a garden, or sit down at a table with a friend and drink some coffee and talk for an hour. All of these unboosted, straight-forward primate activities are actually intensely satisfying to the totality of the mind-body that we are.
So a little bit of analysis of what we are as primates – how we got here evolutionarily, and what can satisfy us in this world – would help us to imagine activities that are much lower impact on the planet and much more satisfying to the individual at the same time. In general, I’ve been thinking: let’s rate our technologies for how much they help us as primates, rather than how they can put us further into this dream of being powerful gods who stalk around on a planet that doesn’t really matter to us.
Because a lot of these supposed pleasures are really expensive. You pay with your life. You pay with your health. And they don’t satisfy you anyway! You end up taking various kinds of prescription or non-prescription drugs to compensate for your unhappiness and your unhealthiness – and the whole thing comes out of a kind of spiral: if only you could consume more, you’d be happier. But it isn’t true.
I’m advocating a kind of alteration of our imagined relationship to the planet. I think it’d be more fun – and also more sustainable. We’re always thinking that we’re much more powerful than we are, because we’re boosted by technological powers that exert a really, really high cost on the environment – a cost that isn’t calculated and that isn’t put into the price of things. It’s exteriorized from our fake economy. And it’s very profitable for certain elements in our society for us to continue to wander around in this dream-state and be upset about everything.
(19 December 2007)
Long interview. Robinson is also a permaculture advocate.
Noted approvingly by Alex Steffen at WorldChanging: The Collapse of Civilization: “It Wouldn’t Be An Adventure”.
Does the Future Need a Legal Guardian?
Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times (blog)
Given the human tendency to favor current needs over future risks, some environmental and legal scholars are proposing that governments at various levels appoint a “legal guardian of future generations” to consider the impact of policy choices on citizens yet unborn.
A leading proponent of this idea is Carolyn Raffensperger, the executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, a group seeking changes in American environmental and public-health policy.
She is proposing that such a guardianship begin with the next presidency. Below you’ll find a note she recently sent outlining her idea.
(29 December 2007)
What’s Your Consumption Factor?
Jared Diamond, New York Times
…Several decades ago, many people considered rising population to be the main challenge facing humanity. Now we realize that it matters only insofar as people consume and produce.
If most of the world’s 6.5 billion people were in cold storage and not metabolizing or consuming, they would create no resource problem. What really matters is total world consumption, the sum of all local consumptions, which is the product of local population times the local per capita consumption rate.
The estimated one billion people who live in developed countries have a relative per capita consumption rate of 32. Most of the world’s other 5.5 billion people constitute the developing world, with relative per capita consumption rates below 32, mostly down toward 1.
The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that’s a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya’s more than 30 million people, but it’s not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.
(2 January 2008)
Dr. Albert Bartlett In Depth (transcript)
Andi Hazelwood, Global Public Media
Dr. Albert Bartlett, professor emeritus of Physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder discusses population growth, peak oil and global warming, solutions and sustainability in great detail with GPM’s Andi Hazelwood. The in depth interview closes with a brief discussion of Australia’s coal reserves and a look at Queensland’s local government reform plan.
(22 June 2007)
This transcript of an earlier video was just posted.