Aussiecon 4, Melbourne
Academic Panel: Destroying the Future to Save the Planet: The Environmental Politics of SFF
Panelists: Kim Stanley Robinson, Glenda Larke, John Clute, Jonathan Cowie, moderator: Tom Moylan
Referenced an academic conference he had just attended where Clute spoke of Lord Byron’s Darkness. This work and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are early examples of science fiction that were concerned with current science and its impact on people, Modern examples are John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider, which were excellent examples of using science fiction to address immediate concerns.
On his trip to Antartica (15 years ago, now), KSR found that climate scientist were excited about data that suggested actual climate change was happening. There were excited that something dramatic might happen in the next 1000 years or so. Discussion of “abrupt climate change” began in 2002. The gulf stream moves about a petawatt of warmth to Europe. A Greenland melt could throw a wrench into the gulf stream, causing a major shift for Europe. Since he wrote about this the science has moved on and this is considered less likely now.
We should not take water for granted. The most affected will be the poor and marginal. Conflict over water could lead to war. (It does in her book.) In an earlier book, Gilfeather (2004), a sustainable society is achieved through the loss of individual freedoms.
Most of the great examples of fantastika are sadly not science fiction. They are about “dignified terror.” Frankenstein is an example. The creature learns quickly, adapts quickly. Better than humanity.
Many have written Utopias. Stan has written how to get there.
Recent survey of physics grad students shows 26 percent were inspired to work in their field by science fiction. U.N. middle estimate for world population in 2050 is 8.5 billion. The year 2050 represents a “pinch point” of several social and environmental factors: poverty increase, food security, fresh water supply, climate change, energy supply, and population increase. We will need everyone who can to work to solve these issues and science fiction has a role in bring these issues forward and motivating people to enter the sciences.
“Linear” engineering approach of science and technology that 50s science fiction described is not adequate to the present challenges.
The dangers are significant. Don’t give up. Find a way to make a difference. Our current economics needs to be broken. Like a Brazil nut, it will be tough and it needs to be cracked (by the “pinch point” Cowie refers to). Economic policies (and the guns protecting them) need to change. Current economics is pseudoscience where all the numbers are cooked, where the third world is ignored or exploited. We need a new praxis (combination of theory and practice). The “wedge diagrams” from Princeton give some comfort that can change our carbon output and perhaps prevent a tipping point.
SF Strangelove note: Most of these notes are loosely paraphrased. This is just the briefest of overviews and I welcome additions and corrections in the comments.