Postponed: Global Efforts to Encourage a Sustainable Blue Economy

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 29 Jun 2022 16:00:00 GMT

This hearing has been postponed and will be rescheduled for a date to be announced.

This is a virtual hearing.

Witnesses
  • Richard Murray, Ph.D., Deputy Director and Vice President for Science and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Laure Katz, Blue Nature Vice President, Conservation International
  • Fertram Sigurjonsson, Founder and CEO, Kerecis

Assessing Federal Programs for Measuring Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 23 Jun 2022 14:00:00 GMT

Hearing page

Witnesses:
  • Dr. Eric K. Lin, Director, Material Measurement Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • Dr. Ariel Stein, Acting Director, Global Monitoring Laboratory and Director, Air Resources Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Dr. Karen M. St. Germain, Earth Science Division Director, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Dr. Bryan Hubbell, National Program Director for Air, Climate, and Energy, Office of Research and Development, United States Environmental Protection Agency

Investigating the Nature of Matter, Energy, Space, and Time

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 22 Jun 2022 14:00:00 GMT

Hearing page

Witnesses:
  • Dr. Asmeret Berhe, Director of the Office of Science, Department of Energy
  • Dr. Brian Greene, Director of the Center for Theoretical Physics, Columbia University
  • Dr. Lia Merminga, Director, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
  • Jim Yeck, Associate Laboratory Director and Project Director for the Electron-Ion Collider, Brookhaven National Laboratory
  • Michael Guastella, Executive Director, The Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals

Detecting and Quantifying Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Sector

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 08 Jun 2022 14:00:00 GMT

The purpose of this hearing is to assess the challenge of oil and gas sector methane leaks from a scientific, technological, and policymaking perspective. The hearing will discuss the current scientific consensus regarding the role of methane leaks as a driver of oil and gas sector methane emissions. The hearing will highlight recent advances in innovative leak detection and repair technologies, as well as the importance of deploying such technologies broadly throughout oil and gas sector operations to achieve large-scale reductions in methane emissions. Finally, the hearing will examine research gaps related to oil and gas sector methane emissions and opportunities for the Federal government to support scientific research activities pertaining to oil and gas sector methane leaks.

Hearing charter

Committee report

Committee staff conclude that oil and gas companies are failing to design, equip, and inform their Methane Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) activities as necessary to achieve rapid and large-scale reductions in methane emissions from their operations. The sector’s approach does not reflect the latest scientific evidence on methane leaks. Oil and gas companies must change course quickly if the United States is to reach its methane reduction targets by the end of this decade. The Committee staff also learned that oil and gas companies have internal data showing that methane emission rates from the sector are likely significantly higher than official data reported to EPA would indicate. A very significant proportion of methane emissions appear to be caused by a small number of super-emitting leaks. One company experienced a single leak that may be equivalent to more than 80% of all the methane emissions it reported to EPA – according to EPA’s prescribed methodology – for all of its Permian oil and gas production activities in 2020.
Witnesses:
  • Dr. David Lyon, Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Riley Duren, Chief Executive Officer, Carbon Mapper
  • Dr. Brian Anderson, Director, National Energy Technology Laboratory
  • Dr. Greg Rieker, Co-Founder and CTO, LongPath Technologies, Inc.

Living with Climate Change: The Polar Vortex

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 13 Apr 2022 16:00:00 GMT

A live webcast will be streamed at 12:00 PM EDT at www.eesi.org/livecast.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing series on strategies, policies, and programs preparing communities around the country for four major climate threats: polar vortices, sea level rise, wildfires, and extreme heat. Experts and practitioners will highlight the unique challenges these climate threats present along with strategies to overcome them.

The polar vortex is an area of low-pressure, frigid air that usually exists around the North Pole. The polar vortex is held in place by the Earth’s rotation and temperature differences between the Arctic and mid-latitudes. Changes in temperature differences can make the polar vortex expand to more southern latitudes. While this phenomenon occurs naturally, climate change is expected to impact the frequency and severity of polar vortex events. Communities must consider adaptation strategies to avoid blackouts and improve overall home energy efficiency, as loss of power when temperatures are so low can become deadly—246 people died during the Texas polar vortex freeze in 2021, many from hypothermia.

Panelists will discuss the science behind the polar vortex and how the energy grid and other critical infrastructure can be made resilient to this threat.

Speakers
  • Jennifer Francis, Acting Deputy Director and Senior Scientist, Woodwell Climate Research Center
  • Megan Levy, Resilience Strategist & Energy Assurance Coordinator, Office of Energy Innovation, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin
  • Michael Gartman, Manager, Carbon-Free Buildings, RMI

RSVP here

Keeping 1.5 C Alive: Responding to the IPCC Report on Mitigating Climate Change

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 12 Apr 2022 14:30:00 GMT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III report underscores the urgency for rapid, deep and sustained cuts to greenhouse gases for the world to have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). This seminal report offers new insights on possible pathways for policymakers, business leaders and others to ramp up their efforts to tackle the climate crisis at the scale and urgency required.

Join World Resources Institute experts and IPCC authors on April 12 for an overview of the IPCC report and learn about the transformative actions across sectors (including energy, transportation, food, forests and much more) needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

This event will be hosted in English with simultaneous interpretation in French and Spanish.

Speakers
  • Chukwumerije Okereke, Director, Centre for Climate Change and Development, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike Nigeria; IPCC Coordinating Lead Author
  • Taryn Fransen, Senior Fellow, Climate, World Resources Institute
  • Craig Hanson, Vice President for Food, Forest, Water & the Ocean, World Resources Institute
  • Jennifer Layke, Global Director, Energy, World Resources Institute
  • Preety Bhandari, Senior Advisor, Global Climate Program and the Finance Center, World Resources Institute (Moderator); IPCC Lead Author

Register here

Atmospheric methane continues to rocket up at record rates

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 08 Apr 2022 17:34:00 GMT

Atmospheric methane continues to rocket up at record rates, NOAA reported yesterday. As fracking booms, methane levels increased by 17 parts per billion in 2021, breaking the 2020 record of 15.3 ppb. Concentrations of this powerful greenhouse pollutant are now 162 percent of their pre-industrial levels, as the Biden administration pushes for more natural gas production and export.

I will take this moment to remind readers that the EPA is undercounting methane pollution by 77 percent.

The essential Kate Aronoff castigates the incoherence of Democrats in Congress who claim to care about the climate crisis begging oil CEOs to increase fossil-fuel production, instead of acting to take their billions in windfall profits and stop their greenhouse pollution:

Appealing to these CEOs’ better angels is pointless. Although they hand fossil fuel companies billions in subsidies each year, American policymakers mostly confine themselves to begging or berating them into doing what they want.

As Adam Tooze writes in his review of three recent books by Andreas Malm:

To harp on the climate crisis while doing nothing about it is, in the long run, intolerable. Liberals’ failures make Trump look honest. He may deny the science, but at least he’s true to himself.

MIT Energy Conference Day One

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 31 Mar 2022 13:00:00 GMT

The 2022 MIT Energy Conference will return in-person at the Boston Marriott Cambridge after a 2-year hiatus, and we’re also planning on a hybrid format to allow other attendees to tune in virtually from around the globe!

Tickets

The 2022 conference will also expand its scope to include broader issues in the fight against climate change, both within and outside the energy sector. Please check out the agenda page for more details on our exciting lineup of events. You can find more details on speakers and startups presenting at the Tech Showcase as well.

March 31, 2022 – Day 1, Thursday

9:05am – 9:35am: Keynote address (virtual) by Dr. Fatih Birol: Executive Director of International Energy Agency

Accelerating Global Action on Clean Energy and Energy Security

Dr Fatih Birol has served as Executive Director of the International Energy Agency since 2015. Under his leadership, the IEA has moved to the forefront of global efforts to reach international climate goals while ensuring that the social and economic impacts of clean energy transitions are at the heart of policy-making and energy security is safeguarded.

9:40am – 10:20am: Keynote address by Glenn Llewellyn: Vice President of the Zero Emission Program at Airbus

Insights on future Hydrogen aircraft

Glenn Llewellyn is Vice President, Zero-Emission Aircraft at Airbus. He is widely recognized as a top-tier leader on climate strategy for aviation. Today, Glenn is at the helm of a zero-emission revolution at Airbus with the mission to unite all the ingredients needed to launch the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft program, ZEROe.

10:35am – 11:15am: PLENARY PANEL: Facilitating a Just Energy Transition

Moderator: Justin Worland – Senior Correspondent: Climate Change, TIME Magazine

Systemic injustice has left marginalized communities and nations exposed to a higher level of threat from the climate crisis. In addition to the harm already done, these groups are at high risk of further suffering not only from the consequences of climate change but also from the adverse effects of the global transition toward decarbonization. It is therefore critical to ensure that all global platforms and commitments consider equitable solutions, particularly in vulnerable communities, in the fight against climate change. Through this panel discussion, we aim to amplify the voices of those most likely to be adversely impacted by climate change and the global transition toward decarbonization, who are fighting to be truly heard in this global discussion. What are the potential strategies that can simultaneously improve the lives of marginalized communities while moving the needle on climate solutions? What concerns do marginalized communities have and how should stakeholders work together to address those concerns?

Featured Panelists:
  • Sarah Jackson – Northeast Regional Climate & Energy Policy Manager, The Nature Conservancy
  • Nonabah Lane – Co-founder, Navajo Ethno-Agriculture
  • Heather McGeory – Global Lead, Climate and Sustainability, APCO Worldwide
  • Dr. Destenie Nock – Assistant Professor, Carnegie Mellon University

11:20am – 12:00pm: Fireside Chat with Audrey Choi and Jason Jay

Sharing her vision for the role of corporates and private capital in addressing the climate crisis

Audrey Choi: Senior Advisor and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Investing, Morgan Stanley

Audrey Choi is Morgan Stanley’s Chief Sustainability Officer and is the founding CEO of Morgan Stanley’s industry-leading Institute for Sustainable Investing where she oversees the Firm’s efforts to promote global sustainability through the capital markets. She also serves on the Firm’s Management Committee and for four years, Ms. Choi simultaneously served as Morgan Stanley’s Chief Marketing Officer where she stewarded the brand to reflect the Firm’s core values of leading with integrity and exceptional ideas, and won industry awards for best corporate strategy and media innovation as the Morgan Stanley brand reached an all-time high.

Moderator: Jason Jay, Director of MIT Sloan Sustainable Initiative

Jason Jay is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative. He teaches executive and masters-level courses on strategy, innovation, and leadership for sustainable business. He has helped secure MIT Sloan’s position as a leader in the field of sustainability through teaching, research, and industry engagement. Dr. Jay’s publications have appeared in the Academy of Management Journal and California Management Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Greenbiz, and World Economic Forum. With Gabriel Grant, he is the author of the international bestseller Breaking Through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World. Dr. Jay also works as a facilitator for companies, organizations, and business families, supporting high quality conversation and shared commitment to ambitious sustainability goals. His clients have included EFG Asset Management, Novartis, Bose, Environmental Defense Fund, BP and the World Bank.

12:00pm – 1:30pm: Lunch

1:35-2:15pm: BREAKAWAY PANEL I: Deploying the Hydrogen Economy

Moderator: Dharik Mallapragada, Research Scientist, MIT Energy Initiative

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and when used as an energy source, it emits only water. As the world is struggling to find replacements for fossil fuels, green hydrogen, hydrogen produced by renewable energy sources, is gaining significant attention with its potential to be a zero-emission energy carrier. Nevertheless, the deployment of hydrogen in the industrial, energy, and transportation sectors still faces tremendous uncertainties. How can we drive down costs along the green hydrogen value chain making it more competitive in the market? How can industry sectors leverage the advantages of hydrogen to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors? What policy levers and innovation support should be in place to ensure that countries and regions meet their hydrogen development goals? This panel will gather industry leaders in hydrogen planning, production, and utilization to discuss the progress made in recent years and the future pathways to a hydrogen economy.

Featured Panelists:
  • Arnab Chatterjee – VP of Infrastructure, ZeroAvia
  • Preeti Pande – CMO, Plug Power
  • Brett Perleman – CEO, Center for Houston’s Future

1:35-2:15pm: BREAKAWAY PANEL II: Financing the Journey to Net Zero: Challenges and Opportunities for Environmentally Sustainable Economic Development

A global energy transition is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change, and energy decisions in developing countries will have an outsized impact on future emissions. However, developing countries face a number of unique challenges in transitioning energy supplies while maintaining economic growth. What are the opportunities for overcoming financial challenges blocking environmentally sustainable development? What do different governmental, multilateral, and private development actors see as key priorities and exciting possibilities? How can the developed world lend a helping hand to developing countries in terms of equitably financing their energy transition?

International, collaborative, blended public climate finance will have a critical role to play in bolstering a low-carbon, resilient transformation of the world’s global economy. This panel seeks to provoke discussions, spark debate and call for action to mobilize such resources to halt the erratic clock that’s ticking away at our collective climate futures.

Featured Panelists:
  • Moderator: Anil Markandya – Distinguished Ikerbasque Professor, Basque Centre for Climate Change
  • Pilar Carvajo Lucena – Investment Officer, IDB Invest
  • Vivek Pathak – Director and Global Head for Climate Business, IFC / World Bank
  • Antonio Silveira – VP Infrastructure – CAF, Bank of Development of Latin America

2:20pm-3:00 pm: BREAKAWAY PANEL I: Modernizing the Grid

Our extensive and reliable power grid, connecting all generation sources to all end-uses, has been so critical to our nation’s growth that the National Academy of Engineering named “electrification” the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century. However, the existing power system cannot meet the evolving demands of the 21st century. Traditional grid architecture was based on large-scale generation remotely located from consumers, centralized control structures with minimal feedback, limited energy storage, and passive loads. A modern grid must be flexible, robust, and agile from end to end, spanning generation, delivery, and end-user segments. This panel will discuss some of the most urgent questions on grid modernization and distributed energy resource integration, including strategies to increase the deployment of existing smart grid solutions, the impacts of new technologies such as vehicle-to-grid integration, how customers increasingly value resiliency through adoption of backup power and microgrid systems, and new opportunities and challenges presented by FERC Order 2222 for customers, distributed resource aggregators, utilities, and wholesale market operators.

Featured Panelists:
  • Moderator: Sanem Sergici – Principal, The Brattle Group
  • Tim Hade – COO, Scale Microgrid Solutions
  • Stephen Lasher – Director of the Electric Markets Integration, National Grid
  • John Taggart – CTO, WeaveGrid

2:20pm – 3:00pm: BREAKAWAY PANEL II: Challenges and Trends in the VC Space

Although the energy transition has been gaining traction worldwide, it has done so without vigorous VC participation. VC investment could ensure a solid startup ecosystem developing new technologies to build a sustainable energy economy. For instance, the share of “energy unicorns” in the United States and Canada, as of April 2021, represented only 1.37% (Source: Statista estimates; CrunchBase; CB Insights, and other), and the VC deals in energy have reached $1.9 Billion in 2020, the lowest among the leading industries (Source: NVCA 2021 Yearbook). This panel will address the current role of VC investors in the clean energy space and today’s greatest challenges to fostering innovative instruments to tackle the barriers of capital costs for renewable energy. What are the main challenges in identifying and funding entrepreneurs focused on unlocking new energy sources? What are the key elements missing in the current legislation, policy frameworks, regulations, and guidance to promote more VC deals in the energy industry? Is the VC participation in energy projects consistent with the level of emerging startups in that space? What are the critical issues for achieving a suitable collaboration among stakeholders to improve financing platforms for energy ventures (Startups, VC, Multilateral Agencies, and Government)?

Moderator: Jon Shieber – Editor and Venture Partner, FootPrint Coalition

Featured Panelists:
  • Ryan Dings – COO and General Counsel, Greentown Labs
  • Brian Mayers – Investor & Company Builder, Breakthrough Energy Ventures
  • Shail Mehta – Managing Director, Global Co-Head of Clean Energy Transition, Citi
  • Christina O’Conor – Partner & Climate Tech Investor, Congruent Ventures

3:15pm – 3:55pm: BREAKAWAY PANEL I: Driving the Future of Personal Mobility

Moderator: Annie Hudson – Assistant Director, MIT Mobility Initiative

As human population, travel, and international trade continue to increase, so do associated emissions that pose risk to both human health and the environment. For the United States, transportation is among the worst offenders, accounting for 29% of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2019. More specifically, light-duty vehicles and medium-large trucks alone generated 82% of these emissions. So while the need to decarbonize personal mobility is apparent, the heterogeneity and unique needs of population centers complicate the task of generating practical implementation strategies: the question has evolved from “what to change” to “where and how to begin the required change”? What does this change look like in the day-to-day of city-goers? In more rural areas? How do we drive these changes for the individual consumer? How do we scale this change across cities and countries? And how do we make these changes sustainable enough to stand the test of time?

This panel will tackle these questions by looking at mobility from a bottom-up approach: considering changes at the city level, impacts on the persons who inhabit them, and how localized success may eventually cascade to industrial and commercial mobility. This panel will address the obstacles and practical steps necessary to reimagine personal mobility in a net-zero world.

Featured Panelists:
  • Nick Albanese – Head of Market Research, Westly Group
  • Will Graylin – CEO, Indigo Technologies
  • Lynda Tran – Director of Public Engagement and Senior Advisor to Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg
  • Alex Wallar – CTO, The Routing Company

3:15pm – 3:55pm: BREAKAWAY PANEL: The Future of Nuclear Energy

Governments, civil entities, and private companies continue to migrate towards carbon neutral practices, driven by concern over increasing effects of climate change. Migrating to cleaner practices demands that our supply of energy is generated from non-fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is an attractive but controversial energy source with reduced GHG emissions. In the past, politics, social perception, and rare catastrophes have slowed down the innovation and adoption of this technology, while solar, wind, and other renewables have grown rapidly. In recent years, more investment and focus has been placed into nuclear energy as a strong partner to renewables and an attractive option to produce synthetic fuels. This panel will span three pillars of nuclear energy: science, systems and society. It will share the newest technologies in fission such as mobile microreactors. Furthermore, it will explore infrastructure and regulation requirements that need to take place to incorporate nuclear energy into our portfolio of clean energy sources. Finally, it will discuss the importance of stakeholder and public commitment to the technology and explore potential pathways for nuclear energy deployment.

Featured Panelists:
  • Moderator: Sonal Patel – Senior Associate Editor, POWER Magazine
  • Jacopo Buongiorno – Director, CANES (Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems), MIT
  • Samuel Lee – Acting Director, Division of Security Operations, US NRC
  • Jeff Navin – Director of External Affairs, Terrapower

The EPA is undercounting methane pollution by 77 percent

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 23 Feb 2022 18:35:00 GMT

The oft-repeated claim that the United States has significantly reduced its greenhouse pollution since 2005 by switching from coal to gas depends on the EPA’s official accounting that methane pollution has declined during the fracking boom, an implausible scenario.

Today, the International Energy Agency revealed in a major report that methane pollution from the fossil-fuel industry is 70 percent higher than official figures globally. Their Global Methane Tracker finds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been seriously undercounting methane pollution. The IEA estimate of 2021 methane pollution is 77 percent higher than the EPA’s inventory:


United States methane pollution from energy sources in 2021. EPA estimate: 9,600 kT; IEA estimate: 17,000 kT

Not surprisingly, that cancels out all the purported climate benefits of switching electricity production from coal to natural gas.

Furthermore, the U.S. EPA calculates the effect of methane on global warming by using its impact over 100 years, which is about 30 times that of CO2, instead of more scientifically defensible dynamic measures that take into account methane’s 20-year impact, which is 86 times that of CO2.

3/7/20 Update: Russia invaded Ukraine the day after the IEA report dropped, so that may help explain why this report didn’t get too much attention. However, the oil and gas industry are claiming the invasion means we have to drill everywhere, and the Senate Energy Committee found time to attack FERC for regulating methane pollution. So I think there’s capacity to discuss this report and its shattering implications, which include the need for the United States to shut down the fracking boom as fast as humanly possible.

A Review of Neal Stephenson's Termination Shock

Posted by Brad Johnson Sat, 29 Jan 2022 17:57:00 GMT

“People were expensive; the way to display, or to enjoy, great wealth was to build an environment that could only have been wrought, and could only be sustained from one hour to the next, by unceasing human effort.” — Neal Stephenson, Termination Shock

One of my favorite techniques in science fiction is taking pop-culture jokes seriously, expanding upon their ramifications with character, setting and story. Bruce Sterling’s 1998 gem Distraction opens with members of a local Air Force base holding a shake-down bake sale.

Neal Stephenson’s 2021 stratospheric-geoengineering treatise Termination Shock launches with an attack by “30-50 feral hogs,” inspired by a tweet that launched a memetic debate over whether and how much the threat of backyard feral hogs are “legit” or ridiculous.

Stephenson convincingly demonstrates that the feral hogs overrunning Texas are a demonic scourge, in an extended opening sequence in which the hereditary queen of the Netherlands, Frederika Mathilde Louisa Saskia, barely survives a plane crash caused by a roving herd.

The herd is led by a Moby-Dick-esque beast known as Snout, who killed the young daughter of one of the other main protagonists, Rufus “Red” Grant, in his yard in rural Texas. Having tracked Snout’s herd for years, Grant saves the queen and kills his nemesis. He then helps her make her rendezvous with the cornpone oil billionaire T.R. “McHooligan” Schmidt, who has begun secretly launching sulfur rockets into the stratosphere to dim the sun. This rogue effort is a cheap way to simulate the effects of nuclear winter enough to counteract the deadly buildup of greenhouse pollution, as long as the rockets keep going.

If that sounds like an enjoyable start to a novel, then you probably have read other books by Stephenson. Unfortunately, it’s by far the most dynamic sequence of the book. The beginning thrill ride is pretty much a headfake, as the book switches erratically to its main topic of geoengineering and becomes, even by Stephenson’s standards, boring and talky.3

The vast majority of the rest of the 720-page tome offers an extremely good sense of what it would be like to hang out with techno-billionaires like Nathan Myhrvold and Jeff Bezos, offering several practical tips on how to stay on their good side (he’s worked for both).

In interviews, Stephenson has said that Termination Shock is meant to describe “the geopolitical reaction” to global warming and the potential decision to engage in geoengineering. His goal was to have “realistic characters having realistic arguments” about geoengineering, in order to “make it a topic of conversation.”

I do think this is a helpful entry in spurring that needed conversation. But on its own, the book is less a serious investigation of the geopolitical ramifications of geoengineering than a monologue from a globe-trotting techno-enthusiast. I do wish his characters had any real psychological differences. It’s great to be reminded that gender, race, and wealth are irrelevant to whether you are a reliable, hyper-competent, semi-horny techno-enthusiast MacGyver, but it’s genuinely difficult to tell the characters apart when they’re talking.

So while it goes into remarkable detail on the mechanisms of the sulfur-launcher and the Netherlands’ movable seawalls, Shock’s political analysis doesn’t go much deeper than: it’s hard to cut carbon pollution, Greens don’t want us to do anything, geoengineering might benefit some regions and might harm others.

For example: by necessity of making the rogue billionaire geoengineer something of a good-guy protagonist, Termination Shock is blithely optimistic about the reliability of climate-model downscaling of the impacts of stratospheric sulfur injection. There’s the repeated implication that there would be clear regional winners and losers, as opposed to new and different forms of anthropogenic climate chaos.

As a novel, _Termination Shock_—whose truly global scope may be its strongest attraction— feels a bit too much like a collection of magazine-length travelogues; the stitching still shows. That said, the up-to-the-minute references to COVID and QAnon and the January 6 insurrection imply that awkwardness may be deliberate. Stephenson is okay with breaking the fourth wall, reminding the reader that the novel’s characters don’t exist but that the real world very much does. Set vaguely in the future, Shock is fundamentally a 700-page essay of Stephenson’s opinions at and about the moment of writing (June 2021).

As explicitly-of-the-moment climate-politics tracts go, I greatly preferred Swedish author Andreas Malm’s Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, written and published a year earlier. It too has great cover art, punchy writing, and covers our global climate politics with greater insight and depth in less than a third as many pages.

However, I enjoyed Termination Shock much more than Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future, a 560-page assemblage which has been heralded as a serious work of climate fiction. I won’t go into my feelings about Ministry here (if you’re deeply interested, here’s a thread), but one element of comparison is worth raising. Robinson has India do stratospheric sulfur injection without sparking World War III, whereas Stephenson has the U.S. (technically, a rogue American) do it. So, I guess they’re both optimists. Unlike Ministry, though, Shock doesn’t even try to imagine turning off the fossil-fuel spigot.

So far, of the three white western-American-male climate SF novels I’ve read recently —_Termination Shock_, Ministry for the Future, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Water Knife, written in 2016—I feel that only Water Knife fully worked as a novel and an analysis of politics and society under global warming.

Some of that may simply be because Bacigalupi didn’t make technocrats, royalty, or billionaires his protagonists. They certainly exist in his narrative and shape it, but their stories are, in the end, kind of boring. Like Ministry and Shock, Water Knife begins with heart-stopping action, but then doesn’t let up. It’s a much more harrowing read, but I think it would be a mistake to think of it as dystopic and the others as optimistic—they’re stories focusing at different moments of different people’s lives on one functionally equivalent near-future hothouse Earth.

I’ve been an admirer and enthusiast of Stephenson since reading Snow Crash when it came out in 1992. It was a particular delight to discover his earlier books, The Big U and Zodiac, were thinly fictionalized depictions of his and his friends’ adventures in my hometown of Boston. He was literally one of those cool weird environmentalist techno-geeks I admired as a teenager.

Termination Shock has been described as Stephenson’s first global-warming book, but Zodiac was a roman à clef about a Greenpeace activist, Snow Crash depicts hordes of climate refugees swarming a newly temperate Alaska, Diamond Age a post-21st-century-World-War-III global society, Seveneves the apocalypse. So it would be better to say this is the first time Stephenson’s work has been branded as climate fiction.

The books also track Stephenson’s progress in society, from the scrappy dirtbag protagonists of the Big U, Zodiac, and Snow Crash to the scrappy dirtbags, billionaires, and queens of Reamde, Fall, and Termination Shock. He writes what he knows!

It is fun to read T.R. Schmidt’s plot-driving actions, magpie personality, and love for explanatory bloviation as a stand-in for the author as he constructed this novel. This, for example, could be authorial self-description: “T.R. was the living embodiment of what was now denoted ADHD. He went off on tangents, a small percentage of which made money.”

The tangent-prone Stephenson really can write action sequences! And depictions of complex machinery! He and his characters have a great sense of humor and a deep appreciation for cool. And every so often he turns out a gem of a sentence like this:

“It was one of those insane statistics about the scale of America that had once made the United States seem like an omnipotent hyperpower and now made it seem like a beached whale.”

To return this to where I started: Termination Shock shares a good amount of plot geography with Sterling’s Distraction, which also primarily takes place in the fetid Texas-Louisiana zone of a broken-empire America and gives the Netherlands a starring role in weird war. I believe that the quarter-century-old Distraction is still one of the strongest climate-politics SF novels extant, and re-read it about once a year. Each sentence crackles, the ideas come fast and furious, the politics are meaningful, the characters compelling, the plot tight and satisfying. I’d love to read more like that.

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