In “Termination Shock”, Neal Stephenson finally tackles global warming

Over lunch, around the time we started to consider dessert, I asked Stephenson how the welcome felt. He looked a little upset and he told me a story that made me think he wasn’t sure these guys were in on it. When he wrote Snow accident, said Stephenson, he lived in the Washington, DC area. Taking the subway, he would see mid-level bureaucratic types heading for the Pentagon reading Tom Clancy’s Hunting in the month of red October. Even though no one was boiling pots like Clancy, these military-industrial complexifiers – who almost certainly knew better – felt like they were learning something from “those things that annoy literary readers, like” Here’s a graffiti on the characteristics F / A -18 performance, ”Stephenson said. “It’s a utilitarian view of what fiction is meant to do for its readers that is alien to literary types.”

Perhaps this is why Stephenson is reluctant to suggest that he’s doing anything other than writing something plausible – that he could (as I hope maybe, just a little) offer a big fictitious engine for. power a Silicon Valley dream machine. I understand. Perhaps it would be pretentious for a modern novelist to say, bluntly, that he hopes to inspire social change with his art. But I push back anyway. It’s science fiction, after all. “Examine the change” is written in the base code, isn’t it? Rotate the story to see it from a different perspective, perhaps warning about bad results? “As far as fiction can have a social impact – and I don’t think that’s the point of fiction, by the way, but since you asked – to tell a plausible story about the way things are could evolve over the next two decades could help, “Stephenson says.” I’m drawn to any type of scenario where I feel like here’s a plan, here’s one thing we can do that can be put into place. works without restructuring the company from top to bottom. “And these are the kinds of people who are intensely involved in his work, the people that this work is about -” people with an engineering mindset, or an upturned, problem-solving mind, ”as Stephenson puts it – who are more drawn to these kinds of plans.

He thinks that someone, or a country, is going to try solar geoengineering. Climate change is too big of a problem, and geoengineering “is a cheap, easy to implement, flawed, and controversial approach that sooner or later someone is going to implement,” he says. But he denies presenting a Big Science Billionaire as any solution. It’s just a novel. Said billionaire “just does it, with no regulations,” Stephenson says, chuckling a little at his own narrative juke. “He’s a bit of a straw man, by design. It is a what if.

Still, Stephenson’s identification of geoengineering as a big vision could have real significance. His superscience this time is not a metaverse or a space colony. It’s engineering to deal with an imminent threat. After a few years of relentless forest fires, hurricanes, epidemics and other natural disasters linked directly or indirectly to climate change, the idea that the world’s leading technologists could tackle the cause where policymakers seem to have failed is almost encouraging.

It’s a big fictitious claim, Stephenson says, but no stranger than, say, Isaac Asimov’s immutable behavioral laws for robots. It’s the kind of nonsense that makes people want to be the heroes, even though our brains tell us that the real work will likely involve meetings with Robinson’s bankers as well. The difference between a novel and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is that a novel has to undergo wide narrative variations. Stephenson has advocated for a decade that science fiction embraces his techno-optimism of the golden age, but as a source of inspiration, not as a controversy. . It must be entertaining, and it cannot be propaganda. “One thing that immediately pulls people out of a book is any suggestion that it’s an ax crusher,” he says.

Illustration: RICARDO TOMÁS

In reality, a science hero or a white paper is a wrong choice. One of the most prominent researchers in solar geoengineering (and many other important climate change technologies and policies) is a Harvard physicist named David Keith. He knows Stephenson and doesn’t think there is a choice. “I completely reject your distinction,” says Keith. “The idea that some ideas are political and others are technical does not stand up to the first two lessons of a lesson. No amount of inventive technology will solve our problem without a strong policy, but policy alone cannot reduce emissions to zero.

Asking billionaires to save the world is never a good idea, but even today they don’t really care. Elon Musk owns a solar power company and an electric car company. Laurene Powell Jobs is investing $ 3.5 billion to help communities affected by climate change. The titans of Silicon Valley help fund Keith’s programs. “As I walked around and presented this, I heard everything from very thoughtful opinions on politics and the environment to someone in an office in Sand Hill Road saying, ‘We should just invest in this and take the relay, ”Keith said. “There is a broad spectrum.

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