In ‘Termination Shock,’ Neal Stephenson Finally Takes On Global Warming


At lunch, almost when we were about to start considering dessert, I asked Stephenson how he felt at the reception. He seemed a little disappointed — and he told me a story that made me think he wasn’t sure the guys were in the comedy. When he wrote Snowfall, Stephenson said, he lives in the Washington, DC area. Riding the Metro, he saw middle -level bureaucrat types heading to the Pentagon reading Tom Clancy’s The Search for Red October. Even without cooking pots like Clancy’s, those industrial-military complexes — who are almost certainly more knowledgeable — feel they have learned something from “those things that irritate the readers of literature, such as, ‘Here’s a graph of the performance characteristics of F/A. -18,’ ”Stephenson said.“ It’s a utilitarian look at what fiction needs to do. for its readers different types of literature. “

That’s why Stephenson rejects the suggestion that he does anything other than write something credible — that he could (as I expected, very little) offer a huge fictional machine to power some dream machine in Silicon Valley. I understand. Perhaps it sounds pretentious for a modern novelist to say, endlessly, that they hope to inspire social change in their art. But I kept coming back. It’s a sci-fi, after all. “Check for change” is written in base code, isn’t it? Rotate the story to see it from a different angle, perhaps to warn against unfortunate consequences? “To the extent that fiction can have a social impact — and I don’t think that’s the purpose of fiction, by the way, but because you ask — tell a credible story about how things can develop. the next few decades might help, ”Stephenson said.“ I’m drawn to any kind of scenario where it feels like, here’s a plan, here’s something we can do that we can’t implement without ’ y change in society from the beginning. ”And it’s the kind of people who are most involved in his work, people who are work -related -“ people who have an engineering mindset, or a roll -up-the-sleeves, problem-solving thinking, “as Stephenson puts it-who. more attracted to those kinds of plans.

He thinks there is one, or a country, that will try solar geoengineering. Climate change is a big problem, and geoengineering “is a cheap, easy to implement, flawed, controversial approach that will sooner or later have to be implemented,” he said. But he denies that he puts Big Science Billionaire as any kind of solution. Just a novel. The billionaire said it “just did it, with no regulation,” as Stephenson said, laughing a little at his own juke of narration. “That’s a little straw man, in plot. It’s a what.”

However, Stephenson’s recognition of geoengineering as a Great Vision may have real meaning. His superscience today is not a metaverse or colony of space. It is an engineering to respond to an impending threat. After several years of relentless forest fires, hurricanes, disease epidemics, and other natural disasters directly linked to climate change, the idea that the world’s leading technologists can take the cause where lawmakers seem to have failed almost optimistically.

It’s a big fictional question, Stephenson says, but it’s no more surprising than, let’s say, Isaac Asimov’s immutable rules of conduct for robots. It’s the kind of madness that makes people wish they could be heroes, even if our brain tells us that the real work might include meetings with Robinson’s bankers as well. The difference between a novel and a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that a novel must have multiple narrative changes — Stephenson emphasizes a decade of science fiction. adopts his Golden Age techno-optimism, but as inspiration, not polemic. . It has to be fun, and it can’t be propaganda. “One thing that immediately pulls people out of a book is any suggestion that it’s an ax grinder,” he said.

Illustration: RICARDO TOMÁS

In fact, the science hero or whitepaper is a wrong choice. One of the most vocal researchers on solar geoengineering (and many other important technologies and climate change policy) is a Harvard physicist named David Keith. She knew Stephenson and she didn’t think there was any. “I totally reject your diversity,” Keith said. “The idea that some ideas are policy and some are technical can’t resist the first two lectures of a class. There are no number of inventive technologies that can solve our problem without strong policy, but policy alone cannot bring emissions to zero.

Asking billionaires to save the world is never a good idea, but even now, they are never interested. Elon Musk owns a solar power company and an electric car company. Laurene Powell Jobs has invested $ 3.5 billion in helping communities affected by climate change. The Silicon Valley titans helped fund Keith’s programs. “Going around and expressing it, I heard everything from perceived perspectives on politics and the environment to an office on Sand Hill Road saying, ‘We just have to invest in it and take it,'” as Keith. “There’s a huge spectrum.”



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