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Romping through RCPs: powerful CliFi from Tobias Buckell

January 2nd, 2018 · 1 Comment

Tobias Buckell is a prolific and thought-provoking science fiction writer with a number of CliFi (climate fiction) books and short stories. For example, the Arctic Rising series‘ first book is described thusly:

Global warming has transformed the Earth, and it’s about to get even hotter. The Arctic Ice Cap has all but melted, and the international community is racing desperately to claim the massive amounts of oil beneath the newly accessible ocean.

Enter the Gaia Corporation. Its two founders have come up with a plan to roll back global warming. They plan to terraform Earth to save it from itself—but in doing so, they have created a superweapon the likes of which the world has never seen.

Buckell has just posted a relatively short piece (<10,000 words) that easily rates as one of the top CliFi pieces that I’ve ever read. Easy for a reader to get caught up in the action, with serious science implied, serious ethics suggested, and a stunningly powerful inherent case for us (the US and all of us) to choose to #ActOnClimate seriously.

In a “world to die for,” Buckell presents us with a future where (a very few) people are leveraging technology to move between parallel universes, parallel Earths.  The core difference between these alternatives: humanity’s ability to coalesce for climate action. The starting world is an electrified version of Mad Max: very violent and with degrading systems as ‘nothing is being built’ and climate catastrophe looms eminent. A second world is functioning, with police and helicopters and sweet air to breath in. The third is truly horrific, climate catastrophe has occurred and breathing air without protection is close to a death sentence. And, the last one readers encounter is “a world to die for … a world to fight for”.

These worlds are described on an “RCP scale”.  RCP stands for Representative Concentrative Pathways, four trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations used by the 2014 IPCC report to frame analysis

The pathways are used for climate modeling and research. They describe four possible climate futures, all of which are considered possible depending on how much greenhouse gases are emitted in the years to come.

Buckell’s four worlds are the notional result across the four RCPs.

That ‘world to die for’ represents, in essence, the most optimistic scenario: the one where (despite the Donald Trump’s, Scott Pruitt’s, Koch Brothers, and other climate-science denying power brokers in the world) humanity gets its act together for a World War II-like mobilization to shift the economy toward lower carbon, to carbon neutral, and then to negative carbon as quickly as possible.

Looking across Buckell’s alternative futures — captured in an well-framed, even powerful, story — there really isn’t a choice as to which humanity (with perhaps rare exception) would like to end up even as there are powerful forces seeking to derail progress that might get us there.

As to that ‘world to die for,’ many of us are fighting for that world.

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Tags: climate change · climate disruption · Global Warming

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dan Bloom // Jan 2, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    Well said, Dr Siegel! Loved Alex Steffen’s tweet on this and loved Tobias’ novel and your post here is very 2018. Thanks for posting. — Dan Bloom

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