VP: You’ve been described as the most prolific science fiction writer living today. I really want to know how this became your niche.
KSR: I was reading fiction and Jules Verne fiction art adventures were exciting. At the end of my library’s section, I began to explore the top of my head: life is really whatever and written before all its history, and if I wanted to write about the present, California, where they were more realistic, then which hit me like the graphics, the numbers. That’s like getting creative and since then, I got married to a scientist and I’ve been able to watch a real scientist work. So that’s how once you publish it mostly to build up your getaway. It was a subculture that had a very particular audience and bookstores, in publishing
VP: It’s fascinating when you discuss the scientific community. I’ve noticed that many scientific works seem to have a left-leaning political theme. Do scientist-writers aim for objectivity? I remember during one of your talks, you mentioned that when people claim to be against scientists, they’re actually against the ownership of labor. Have you spoken to scientists or those in the science fiction community about this?
KSR: The political spectrum exists in all fields and communities, including science fiction and writing. From hardcore reactionary right-wingers and military science fiction libertarians to left liberals and the radical wing, the spectrum is vast. Personally, I align with the left, but I dislike the precise labeling that often happens, leading to internecine warfare and the narcissism of small differences. My characters express a range of opinions, and my own opinions are fluid. I was fortunate to be trained by Frederick Jamison, one of the most famous Marxist literary critics on Earth, and I still listen to his classes as podcasts. As a science fiction writer, I am interested in the birth and development of science, and how it works as a political force. I have explored this in my novels, including Shaman, which looked at the birth of science in the Paleolithic era, and in Galileo and the Years of Rising Salt, which imagined a scientific revolution occurring in a fictional culture where India, Islam, and China met. In my Washington DC trilogy, also known as Science in the Capitol or Green Earth, I examined how federal science works and its influence on policy. As a science fiction writer, I am always looking for new stories and exploring the role of science and scientists in society. The Mars trilogy was a turning point in my career, and science remains a prominent theme in all of my work
VP: You wrote a book called New York 2150 In which New York was completely submerged, with the sea level going up 50 feet from where it is today. I don’t know where the sea level is going to be by then, but what do you think about science fiction making predictions or placing readers in fear to prevent those predictions.
KSR: One thing about the science fiction readership is that they are accustomed to playing the game of the genre, which means that this novel can be seen through two lenses. On the one hand, it is about the future, and on the other hand, it is about the present.. This novel is about our choices right now, and how we will cope with the future consequences.Some questions it answers are: How will humans cope?Specifically, how will they cope with the situation we would have left them with? They’ll say look, this is what we got. I’m going to try to find a partner, have a family, make some money, have some fun, all that will be on the minds of people.
VP: You know, I think it’s interesting that you mentioned things like humans coping with the future because I think you’ve been described as an optimist about the climate crisis. I personally can’t help but be a pessimist with regards to not only how we’re dealing with the climate crisis now, but also things like capitalism and the modern rise of global fascism.
KSR: I often recommend just giving up on optimism or pessimism. It will be interesting for you during the course of your lifetime–you’re going to see lots of losses and inappropriate behaviors by people who are, in effect, trying to wreck the world, for motives that are opaque even to themselves. A lot of good things are already started. And it’s become a topic of interest. And I tell you, when I started writing science in the capital, it was just a science fiction story. It made a difference when Al Gore did the movie, An Inconvenient Truth, but it was an outlier opinion. Now it’s the central story of history. And I’m seeing private capital realizing that they can’t make a profit if the world has gone crashing. So now private capital is interested. Could we still make a buck doing green work? That’s a big jump. And it may or may not be true because the inherent rules of capitalism are unjust, they’re extractive, and this is all very straightforward leftism. They’re made for the rich: the rich extract value and ruin people’s lives. They misery people and scare them so that the people will take any job they can stay alive, while the rich live off of an obscene amount of wealth.
And we can beat these guys, because a lot of them are older, they’re my generation, a lot of them will die out and there will be a new structure of feeling. And this is another leftist concept and it has to do with the general intellect or what is common sense, what everybody just thinks of as normal. And by the time your generation takes over power, then saving the biosphere is going to be seen as normal. It won’t be as contested as now because there’ll be that many disasters and there’ll be that many solutions.
It does seem to represent to me a full employment program. Young people, especially young intellectuals, but in fact all young people, they’re going to have jobs. People are going to be begging them, because you got to take care of the old people. You got to green the world. And you’ve got to grow the food and make the machinery there’s more work to be done, then there’s going to be humans after the baby boomer pulse dies out.
It won’t just be flipping burgers or doing Starbucks; that’ll be necessary but that will probably be even those jobs. They’re going to have to be offered an adequate living wage or else nominal take that job because they can take care of old people or they can go out and work in some kind of green industry. The clean transition already needs more. We need more electricians and more engineers than we have right now. And it goes on and on like that.
And now I’m talking about ministry for the future. I’m talking to all these power centers, and they are almost all being run by people 20 or 30 years younger than me. They’re smart,well educated, and determined to do good and are in positions of power.. So the baby boomers of my generation, accomplish a lot, fail a lot, but are becoming irrelevant. They’re saying things like, “ I’m going to become a technocrat, I’m going to work for the government”, or “I’m going to work in the international diplomatic world. And I’m going to try to make changes.” “ I’m going to make a billion and then I’m going to throw that billion into good causes.” This kind of affective Altruism, which is interesting and kind of bogus. But on the other hand, I have seen many billionaires and Silicon Valley who love science fiction. I met a lot of these people, and they are actually very smart and they want to make sure that the biosphere survives. They have justice as a goal.
Dr. Robinson then delved into various ideas pitched to him by said “technocrats,” each with their fair shares of upsides and downsides. Some of the topics included pumping water from Antarctica, utilizing an industrial process to mechanically drive Carbon back into soil, and other potential agricultural techniques.
KSR: This is a great opportunity for for UC Davis for Regenerative AG. I mean that I think is the project for your generation is and then as I always say the economics, you know, you’ve got to be able to make a living doing that you don’t want to make everybody say to everybody, oh, you need to go bankrupt or you need to do this as charity on the margin. You have to be able to make your living at it. And that this is where looking at that IRA bill is simply saying, Look, we’ll give you money if you do the right thing. And if that was expanded out as a general principle then you get to the carbon coin, et cetera, and then you can make your living doing green things. It’s there it’s on the table. It’s just incoherent and it’s got enemies that would like to kill it in the cradle for reasons that are a little bit ugly.
Our discussion then went to places outside of UC Davis. Dr. Robinson mentioned the International “4 per 1000” Initiative, launched by France in 2015, signifying a goal to increase carbon fixation in soil by .4% every year. The world’s soils contain 2 to 3 times more carbon than the atmosphere, so increasing fixation every year should significantly reduce the Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.
VP: I also kind of want to give us give some space for you to just talk about “the new Green Revolution” as you’ve called it. How can readers of the Aggie Transcript and UC Davis students be a part of it?
KSR: Here’s where I gotta say, I am a student trying to learn. Your readers will after a couple classes know more about it than I do. I think I mean, there’s things about it that immediately make me wonder, can this work? Like no till agriculture. So you then suddenly you don’t plow the soil anymore, and you begin to work in perennials rather than annuals and the carbon needs to be sequestered in part by not disturbing the soil. That strikes me as an awesome ask but are there other ways to sequester carbon in soil? We got nitrogen fixers are all around us right now are there carbon fixers Well, there are but can we eat them etc. I’m not well versed in this and I don’t know if there’s a good tutorial on it that I’ve missed. Or if it doesn’t exist, and it’s still a project to be theorized. But the people I keep asking, this village itself is filled with people from UC Davis agriculture who live here. I keep asking them, What do you think about this and they’re like, work in progress, or it’s some or it’s some think tanks idea that it’s actually harder than hell in practice, which may be true. That’s part of my research right now: trying to find out more about what regenerative agriculture would imply.