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Berkeley Talks: Sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson on the need for 'angry optimism'

By Public Affairs

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Two images side by side: The first is a book cover of The Ministry for the Future; second is Kim Stanley Robinson holding a mic while giving a talk
Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson joined in conversation with UC Berkeley faculty at a Berkeley Climate Change Network event in January.

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

In Berkeley Talks episode 193, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson discusses climate change, politics and the need for "angry optimism." Robinson is the author of 22 novels, including his most recent, The Ministry for the Future, published in 2020.  

"It's a fighting position — angry optimism — and you need it," he said at a UC Berkeley event in January, in conversation with English professor Katherine Snyder and Daniel Aldana Cohen, assistant professor of sociology and director of the Sociospatial Climate Collaborative. 

"A couple of days ago, somebody talked about The Ministry for the Future being a pedagogy of hope. And I was thinking, 'Oh, that's nice.' Not just, why should you hope? Because you need to — to stay alive and all these other reasons you need hope. But also, it's strategically useful.  

"And then, how to hope in the situation that we're in, which is filled with dread and filled with people fighting with wicked strength to wreck the earth and human chances in it.  

"The political battle is not going to be everybody coming together and going, 'Oh, my gosh, we’ve got a problem, let's solve it.' It's more like some people saying, 'Oh, my gosh, we’ve got a problem that we have to solve,' and other people going, 'No, we don’t have a problem.'              

"They'll say that right down over the cliff. They'll be falling to their death going, 'No problem here because I'm going to heaven and you're not,' or whatever. Nobody will ever admit they're wrong. They will die. And then the next generation will have a new structure of feeling.

"In the meantime, how to keep your hope going, how to put it to use … I think all novels have a little of this, and then Ministry is just more explicit." 

This Jan. 24 event was sponsored by the Berkeley Climate Change Network and co-sponsored by Berkeley Journalism; Berkeley Center for Interdisciplinary Critical Inquiry, home to the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative; and the Townsend Center for the Humanities.

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