Climate-Fiction Book Review: Ministry For The Future

I love a good audio book, and I, like many of you, like to be inspired to think that climate change can be solved, while also breathing into the reality of what a challenge it will be. No rose tinted glasses for me – but I do believe clean tech (and CleanTechnica of course) leads the way to a future we can be proud of. So on a recent trip in which I would have a fair amount of time in transit on planes, buses, trains, etc., I downloaded Ministry for the Future from Libro.FM, my preferred audio book provider (Libro gives a portion of sales to local, independent book stores…how’s that for being different, cool, and socially responsible?).

Long and short, I loved this book, and believe CleanTechnica’s readers will, too. The story is a cli-fi (climate fiction) narrative about an organization created in the year 2025 called the Ministry for the Future, a body created under the Paris Agreement tasked with solving climate change through innovation in policy, consulting, and advocacy, primarily. The book starts with an American aid worker, Frank May, who finds himself in India during a particularly scorching heat wave. I found myself almost giving up on the book as the tedium of the heat wave droned on (yes, it’s hot, I got that in the first 5 pages), until I realized that that was the point — that there was no escaping it, that there were no answers except to try to endure. The heat wave kills millions across a poor region of India and catalyzes Frank’s journey through trauma response and sets him on a mission to right some of the wrongs of climate change.

Mary Murphy, head of the Ministry for the Future, is a brilliant Irish citizen working with all the good intentions, innovative tools, and motivated by a ton of climate anxiety (I can relate). Throughout the book, Murphy headlines approaches to innovation including carbon quantitative easing, geoengineering, and reimagined capitalism.

The human element was really poignant as well. The book follows an immigrant family that spent 20 years in refugee camp after fleeing climate catastrophe and conflict over dwindling resources, with the family eventually ending in Switzerland. The character (a female matriarch of the refugee family) talks about dignity — after food and shelter, the third need, the first non-survival one, that will determine peace for an individual — is dignity. After all, they relocated, had to open an “ethnic” restaurant serving the types of food that people there wanted (not necessarily what they wanted to make, but ultimately, had dignity, if not great wealth, and that was sufficient to give them a shot at living a good life.

So many of the solutions in the book were about money. Governments start cooperating because they’re getting financially incentivized to do so. People moving out of their small towns after buyouts — for the half earth project (a project to re-wild half the earth). The carbon coin. A smallholder farm building soil. The wildlife monitors. The carbon auditors. It’s all about jobs, and money.

I found the book a little odd at times — a number of chapters distract from the narrative as almost a riddle would — what is a photon? for instance, and a number of them, at least in the audio book, feature a grumpy and perhaps even evil genius villain being interviewed by a polite British chap. I didn’t really understand these interludes and feel like the book would’ve been better without them.

But overall, looking into a future utopian, yet hard-science narrative, felt to me like exactly the balm I need for my climate anxiety. It reassures me that there are simply brilliant people working on all aspects of the climate problem, and that, for me to do my best, I simply need to keep working within my sphere of influence (ahem, thank you for reading and spreading CleanTechnica) to be a part of the solution, and not have to carry the world’s burden myself.


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