The science fiction writer William Gibson has an interview in the Financial Times February 13th (paywalled) in which “the prophet of cyberspace talks AI and climate collapse.”
It’s a long time since I read sci-fi. My taste goes back to the Golden Age, when he-men wearing goldfish bowls and long underwear battled with aliens, armed with nothing but an atomic raygun and a delectable lightly-clad sidekick called Doris.
…his latest novel Agency is partly set in a post-apocalyptic London a century in the future. It is also about the intertwined fates of a group of characters in San Francisco in 2017 living in a reimagined past in which Hillary Clinton became president and Brexit never happened.
Normal middle class Londoners and San Franciscans, in other words. Where’s the sci-fi in that?
Concerned though he is by some aspects of technology, Gibson is far more alarmed by the dangers of pandemics and irreversible, destructive climate collapse, which he speculates may become the biggest driver of change in human history. He fears that the world’s FQ — or F***edness Quotient, as he calls it — is rising to a worrying degree. He laments the fact that the Trump administration has gone “deliberately and horrifically backward” on climate policy. “Denial of impending climate collapse has become an extra leg on the rightwing stool and I suspect it will stay that way,” he says.
Whereas belief in impending climate collapse is limited mainly to those living in a reimagined past in which Hillary Clinton became president and Brexit never happened.
Rightwing nationalists will always resist the “optimal solution” to climate change, which would be to form an effective and benign world government, as imagined in the backdrop to the original Star Trek series.
This is the man hailed as a prophet for having invented the word “cyberspace.” And where does he look for the solution to impending climate collapse? Star Trek (with the abolition of democracy as an unmentioned corollary.)
Without wishing to go “full Greta”, he argues that the science on climate change is black-and-white and absolutely grim.
Well of course, no expert on science at the forefront of the technological revolution would want to go the full Greta. So he makes do with a half Greta, reasoning like a child of eight and a half.
He envisages a world in which “the entire equator becomes unliveable without a space suit” and millions of people will be driven towards the poles. “That would play into ethno-nationalism and xenophobia, fear of immigrants in increasingly ugly ways.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer Flash Gordon. His sufferings at the hands of Ming the Merciless and the possessive (though captivating) Queen Azura on the planet Mongo have a Flaubertian profundity lacking in the dreams of a San Francisco Democrat praying for the return of Hillary. More realistic too.