From fiction to action on climate change: Author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers Possible Worlds lecture

Published: December 14, 2021

Courtesy of Kim Stanley Robinson

By Anushka Chakrabarti 

Editor’s note: The next Possible Worlds lecture will take place on March 11 and will feature internationally recognized innovation and sustainability expert Darja Isaksson. 

For the third installment of the Possible Worlds lecture series, Kim Stanley Robinson —recognized as one of the greatest living science fiction writers — joined students, faculty and UCLA community members Nov. 30 to discuss climate change advocacy and the incredibly high stakes facing our planet.

“[We] are standing on the edge of creating a mass extinction event that would hammer humanity,” said Robinson in his talk, “Optopia: From Fiction to Action on Climate Change.”

A collaborative effort between the Division of Humanities at UCLA and the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute, Possible Worlds invites today’s most imaginative intellectual leaders and creators to discuss a range of issues that relate to current challenges and factors in human progress.

Robinson, author of the climate change-themed novel, The Ministry for the Future, spoke at length about his experience in Glasgow at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

“COP is not the solution to the world’s problems. It’s good, but it’s not the total story,” he said. “And so other things need to be kept on the table: many of them financial, some of them social, some of them technological.”

Robinson was later joined by Q&A moderator Ursula Heise, chair of the Department of English and director of the Lab for Environmental Narrative Strategies at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“I’m really interested in environmental policy, just public policy in general, and I find these concepts really interesting,” said attendee Lawrence Tran, a first-year biology student. “The way that Robinson explained it is really cool.”

“I’ve found that in his work, Robinson cares about what’s really happening and why,” added Ryan Lannan, a UCLA alum and chemistry faculty member. “He tells you what matters and where your efforts would be best [directed].”

David Schaberg, dean of the Division of Humanities and senior dean of the UCLA College, said the Possible Worlds series and the collaboration between the Berggruen Institute and the UCLA Division of Humanities stemmed from a shared interest in ideas.

“Ideas are the currency in which our research, teaching and all of our activities together on campus are conducted to advance understanding,” said Schaberg. “The mark of a truly successful lecture is that it will send people away with ideas they can’t stop thinking about.”

The conversations among attendees after the latest Possible Worlds lecture showed that was exactly Robinson’s impact.

“Humanities is about taking your best critical and creative thinking and dealing with problems in a human way,” Schaberg said. “This is someone who writes novels as a way of changing our imaginations by changing the world.”

View the entire Possible Worlds lecture by Kim Stanley Robinson on the website and Youtube.