The Wave of the Future

Dhalgren book coverSometimes it takes a science fiction writer to help people imagine the effects of climate change. The David G. Hartwell ’63 Science Fiction Symposium brought together two such writers—Kim Stanley Robinson and Paulo Bacigalupi—and journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, who writes about the environment for The New Yorker, in  “The Wave of the Future,” a panel discussion on the role of the writer in raising awareness about climate change.

Books by Robinson and Bacigalupi paint a future in which ecological disaster has struck. In Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, the earth has been destroyed by overpopulation and global warming, forcing people to colonize the planet Mars. Bacigalupi’s characters, on the other hand, scratch out an existence on an earth with drowned coastal cities and without fossil fuels.

Scenes from these novels created a specter of our possible future for the panel’s audience—a specter these writers believe needs to be reinforced. “There is a layer of consciousness that still needs to be raised,” Bacigalupi said, “despite the fact that we know exactly what we need to do to fix this problem.”

Robinson agreed, saying that “we don’t charge enough for what we use—a practice economists call “predatory dumping.” He explained that dumping is used to drive competitors out of business, but “in this case, the competitors are our future generations.” While Kolbert agreed that a carbon tax “is the only step we know how to make that will have an impact,” she worried aloud that it wouldn’t be enough.

David Hartwell, who moderated the panel, applauded the three panelists for their work, encouraging them to continue their “unremitting pressure for as long as possible, for as long as it takes, and keep engaging the attention of the public.”

Other symposium events included two public readings, an open discussion with author Samuel R. Delany and Williams critical theory faculty members, and several classroom workshops on screenwriting, design direction, and fiction writing. “The Wave of the Future” panel discussion on climate change and science fiction can be viewed in its entirely here.