Extreme Heat: The Likely Scenario Soon from The Ministry of the Future

By Bill McKibben – Nov 2020 – The prolific science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, who is at heart an optimist, opens his newest novel, The Ministry for the Future, with a long set piece as bleak as it is plausible. Somewhere in a small city on the Gangetic Plain in Uttar Pradesh during the summer of 2025, Frank, a young American working for an NGO, wakes up in his room above a clinic to find that an unusually severe pre-monsoon heat wave has grown hotter still and more humid—that the conditions outside are rapidly approaching the limit of human survival. Actually, conditions inside are approaching the same level, because the power has gone out.

Frank manages to get a generator going and opens the doors of the NGO’s offices to seven or eight extended families, who cram themselves into the few rooms where creaking air conditioners knock the fatal edge off the heat. But then local thugs take both the generator and the AC unit at gunpoint. The temperature inside and out approaches 108 degrees Fahrenheit; the humidity is 60 percent. People start to die, and their bodies are taken up to the roof and left there. As night falls, Frank goes with some of the survivors to the shallow lake in the center of the city and they submerge themselves in the water, hopeful it will help them survive. It doesn’t—the lake water, too, is above body temperature, and as thirsty people drink it,

hot water in one’s stomach meant there was no refuge anywhere…. They were being poached….

People were dying faster than ever. There was no coolness to be had. All the children were dead, all the old people were dead. People murmured what should have been screams of grief.