The ministry of the future

Dóra Maurer, Relative Balance Sheets, 1973-5
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By JOSÉ EDUARDO PEREIRA WILKEN BICUDO*

Commentary on Kim Stanley Robinson's Science Fiction Book

A wave of great pessimism has been taking over the world lately. Humanity ended up creating traps for itself, compromising, perhaps, its future irremediably.

Endless wars, global warming, climate change, social inequalities, enormous concentration of income and wealth, hunger and human migrations seem to be the main causes of this widespread feeling of great pessimism, especially among the less favored layers of human populations, victims of one of the cruelest and inhuman versions of the capitalist system, neoliberalism.

The possible solutions offered by the current governments of different countries to solve or at least mitigate these problems are far below the needs and completely out of step with the required urgency. In the case of Brazil, it goes without saying, as it has been almost four years of complete denialism, destruction, violence, deliberate inaction, deaths in cities, countryside and forests. In short, an unprecedented catastrophe in the recent history of the country.

Given this situation, there is no optimism that prevails for long. What remains is dismay, despondency and fatally that pessimism that leads us into a downward spiral from which it is very difficult to get out. The Brazilian people, however, have shown themselves to be extremely resilient and everything indicates that a wave of optimism has been taking over the country and the course of things seems to be changing soon.

This wave of optimism has been largely generated by the candidacy of former President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva for the presidency of the republic in the 2022 elections. Lula, whose optimism is simply admirable, has been infecting everyone with his tireless to be.

In the same direction, the book by science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, The ministry for the future, published in 2020, whose free translation from English to Portuguese would be The ministry of the future. A translation of this book into Portuguese is not yet available. There is already, however, a translation into Spanish. The central theme of the book, as the title itself reveals, is precisely the “Ministry of the Future”, an institution of planetary scope created in January of the year 2025, with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, and headed by a middle-aged Irish woman, Mary Murphy, the main character of the book. Mary Murphy recalls, in several passages of the book, the figure of Dilma Rousseff, due to her personal and professional qualities. The difference is that Mary did not receive the same treatment as Dilma and was able to finish her term at the Ministry of the Future without coup interference to remove her.

Mary Murphy is passionate about what she does and, with a lot of competence and intelligence, she is able, little by little, to convince world leaders to make the necessary changes to guarantee the health and survival of the planet. She also has a great sensitivity, giving solidarity to those in need. Her trajectory as a minister intersects, at a certain moment, with that of an environmental activist, and the two develop a very deep dialogue, and at times somewhat complicated, on existential questions in the face of the announced environmental catastrophe and its consequences.

The first chapter of the book describes the horrors provoked by an unprecedented heat wave in India, which resulted in the deaths of millions of people, months after the creation of the Ministry of the Future. There was no doubt for the specialists working in the Ministry of the Future that this heat wave was caused by global warming resulting from the high and continuous carbon emissions resulting mainly from human activities.

Throughout the book, the Mystery of the Future has the difficult task of dealing with the numerous problems arising from global warming and presenting ways and alternatives to solve them. Kim Stanley Robinson, who lives in the city of Davis, California, in the USA, works very well in different areas of knowledge, such as geophysics, biology, economics, sociology and politics, in addition to being a lover of nature. Kim Stanley Robinson has a vast literary oeuvre and her science fiction books have received wide recognition.

In an article about Kim Stanley Robinson and her work published in the American magazine The New Yorker, in 2021, the author reveals all his concern with the degradation that the environment has been suffering for decades, not only in California, but in many other regions of the planet. In this article, the author comments on the reasons that led him to write about a catastrophic environmental situation in the not so distant future. The book, according to Robinson, functions at the same time as a form of warning and a “debate” on concrete ideas that aim to mitigate or even reverse the effects and damage caused by global warming.

It is interesting to note that, in the book, the various futuristic technologies described by Kim Stanley Robinson for the reversal of some catastrophic environmental situations, including the emblematic melting of the polar ice caps, have already been published in scientific journals and tested on a small scale. One of these, cooling sea water and pumping it back to the Antarctic continent, for example, could only be carried out on a large scale, however, if there was a commitment from governments such as the USA, Russia, from China, European countries and other so-called developed countries so that their fleets of warships and aircraft carriers could be used for peaceful purposes and, therefore, transformed into real “floating plants” for pumping and cooling sea water as a means of to restore the polar ice caps. The implementation of these new technologies developed to safeguard the survival of the planet is one of the countless and difficult tasks that the Ministry of the Future proposes to negotiate with the governments of different countries.

Another interesting issue that Kim Stanley Robinson brings to the debate concerns the creation of a new world economic order, based on a new reference currency, which is no longer the US dollar, but a currency backed by carbon emissions. One of the main consequences of this new economic order would be that countries with lower carbon emission rates, in general poor countries, would have substantial advantages, and not the opposite, as it happens today. This new order would have as its primary purpose to significantly reduce the economic inequalities prevailing on the planet.

According to Kim Stanley Robinson, if it weren't for the enormous economic and social inequality caused by neoliberalism in recent decades, there would be enough money for the 8 billion inhabitants of planet earth to live in a healthy and dignified manner. Incidentally, this data has also been highlighted by economist Ladislau Dowbor in his numerous articles.

Kim Stanley Robinson describes the pilgrimage undertaken by Mary Murphy to convince the presidents of the central banks of different countries about the importance and urgency of making the transition to a new economic order along the lines proposed by the Ministry of the Future. The biggest resistance, of course, came from the US central bank. And, not so surprisingly, it is China's central bank, chaired by a woman, who takes the initiative to embrace and help move the idea forward, including subsequent support from Russia's central bank. Kim Stanley Robinson envisions a future multipolar world, with the break of North American hegemony. Without going into the merits of the recent conflict in Ukraine, two years earlier, Kim Stanley Robinson already foresaw a change in the world order, but in a peaceful way.

There are, however, passages in the book that are not so peaceful. Cargo ships, passenger planes and, above all, billionaire jets are targeted, from ultra-advanced drones, with shots fired by groups of unidentified young environmental activists who are able to remain incognito, using information technology and intelligence tools of the most sophisticated artificial intelligence in order to outwit any governmental or non-governmental initiative to identify them.

The result of these actions is immediate. That is, the traffic of cargo ships and aircraft propelled by fossil fuels drops practically to zero. Under pressure, then, the governments of different countries are forced to invest in the rapid implementation of technologies that use clean and renewable energy to transport people and cargo across the planet. Again, in this regard, there are already technologies available for use in the most varied modes of transport. What is lacking is political will and sufficient investment so that scale can be scaled up.

In the wake of these changes in attitude, others appear, of a peaceful nature, such as the conception of a new digital communication network that no longer monetizes interactions, including those associated with the dissemination of false news, due to the enormous damage they cause, including for leading to the corrosion of democracies and their institutions. The Ministry of the Future supports initiatives of this nature and assists in expanding this new network, with a view to changing the reigning individualist mentality to one that results in actions of a collective nature that, in turn, lead to significant structural changes, including the decrease in the consumption of goods in general, but mainly of totally unnecessary goods, whose excessive production has been overloading the planet and depleting its natural resources.

Kim Stanley Robinson cites in his book the example of the Mondragón Corporation, a federation of cooperatives originating in the Basque country, Spain, founded in 1956, as a future to be pursued by large corporations. That is, at Mondragón, in general, a good part of the profit obtained by the various cooperatives that make up the corporation returns in the form of better wages for its employees, in addition to many other benefits, such as quality medical assistance, better conditions to finance obtaining home, etc.

This is without taking into account the fact that the salary difference between the different levels of the corporation is small, no more than six times. In times of difficulty, such as during the pandemic caused by Covid-19, Mondragón employees were not simply fired or removed, but, in solidarity, accepted salary reductions so that everyone could keep their jobs.

The ministry of the future helps to disseminate the concept of corporation idealized by Mondragón so that this (conception) can expand and reach much larger scales, becoming the dominant form of operation of large corporations on the planet. Kim Stanley Robinson introduces topics such as Marxism, Keynesian economics and countercyclical economic policies, to explain, for example, the relevance, from the socioeconomic point of view, of the expansion on a planetary scale of corporations with ideals similar to that of a Mondragón, with a view to a world more humane and egalitarian.

According to a The ministry of the future, cooperativism should be expanded and become the basis of all activities carried out by the public and private sectors, such as the modernization of infrastructure (sanitation, housing, urban transport, etc.), but also in relation to activities aimed at education, health , security, management of flora and fauna, management of large human migratory movements resulting from conflicts or climate change, production of healthy foods and many others. All this from the consolidation of an energy matrix based on clean and renewable energies, and, not least, through consultations and dialogues with all the communities involved.

Lula, when he was in Europe in November 2021, gave an exquisite speech at the headquarters of the European Parliament, in Brussels, Belgium, where he was given a standing ovation by deputies of this Parliament, reinforcing his prestige and recognition as a great leader of planetary dimension. His speech emphasized the fact that facing social inequalities, eradicating poverty and hunger in the world are essential elements to mitigate, minimize or even reverse the deleterious effects of climate change and global warming.

Around the beginning of the second half of the book, unexpectedly and even surprisingly, there is a passage in which Kim Stanley Robinson mentions, as if predicting a future even before it happens, that the Brazilian government was going through a period with a widespread and unprecedented level of corruption, leading to the resignation of its far-right president and soon after to his arrest. Immediately after this event, according to Kim Stanley Robinson, the so-called “Lula Left”, now called “Clean Brazil”, due to the urgent environmental issue and its catastrophic consequences, returned triumphantly with the support of the majority of the population.

Unfortunately, the resignation of such an extreme right-wing president could hardly happen within the context created in the country, with the advent of Lava Jato and the 2016 coup, which led to a huge weakening of democratic institutions. However, his arrest could eventually be on the agenda if democratic institutions returned to comply with the constitutional order. On the other hand, the “Lula Left” could indeed return very soon, even earlier than predicted by Kim Stanley Robinson and his The ministry of the future. In this case, however, having to face all sorts of obstacles due to the breakdown of the constitutional order that occurred after the 2016 coup.

Lula's speech in the European Parliament and most of the government proposals of the political alliance led by him coincide with the predictions made by Robinson about the future of Brazil, which, under the undisputed leadership of the former, would move towards the implementation of a new economic model, with a view to sustainable development, based on environmental preservation, the eradication of hunger and extreme poverty, the promotion of equality and social justice.

*Jose Eduardo Pereira Wilken Bicudo is a retired full professor at the Institute of Biosciences at the University of São Paulo and honorary professor at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

Reference


Kim Stanley Robinson. The ministry for the future. London, Orbit, 2020, 576 pages.

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