More than a decade ago, bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson began a groundbreaking series of near-future eco-thrillers—Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting—that grew increasingly urgent and vital as global warming continued unchecked. Now, condensed into one volume and updated with the latest research, this sweeping trilogy gains new life as Green Earth, a chillingly realistic novel that plunges readers into great floods, a modern Ice Age, and the political fight for all our lives.
The Arctic ice pack averaged thirty feet thick in midwinter when it was first measured in the 1950s. By the end of the century it was down to fifteen. One August the ice broke. The next year the breakup started in July. The third year it began in May. That was last year.
It’s a muggy summer in Washington, D.C., as Senate environmental staffer Charlie Quibler and his scientist wife, Anna, work to call attention to the growing crisis of global warming. But as they fight to align the extraordinary march of modern technology with the awesome forces of nature, fate puts an unusual twist on their efforts—one that will pit science against politics in the heart of the coming storm.
Praise for the Science in the Capital trilogy
“Perhaps it’s no coincidence that one of our most visionary hard sci-fi writers is also a profoundly good nature writer—all the better to tell us what it is we have to lose.”—Los Angeles Times
“An unforgettable demonstration of what can go wrong when an ecological balance is upset.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Absorbing and convincing.”—Nature
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The Buddha Arrives
The Earth is bathed in a flood of sunlight. A fierce inundation of photons—on average, 342 joules per second per square meter. 4185 joules (one Calorie) will raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree C. If all this energy were captured by the Earth’s atmosphere, its temperature would rise by ten degrees C in one day.
Luckily much of it radiates back to space. How much depends on albedo and the chemical composition of the atmosphere, both of which vary over time.
A good portion of Earth’s albedo, or reflectivity, is created by its polar ice caps. If polar ice and snow were to shrink significantly, more solar energy would stay on Earth. Sunlight would penetrate oceans previously covered by ice, and warm the water. This would add heat and melt more ice, in a positive feedback loop.
The Arctic Ocean ice pack reflects back out to space a few percent of the total annual solar energy budget. When the Arctic ice pack was first measured by nuclear submarines in the 1950s, it averaged thirty feet thick in midwinter. By the end of the century it was down to fifteen. Then one August the ice broke up into large tabular bergs, drifting on the currents, colliding and separating, leaving broad lanes of water open to the continuous polar summer sunlight. The next year the breakup started in July, and at times more than half the surface of the Arctic Ocean was open water. The third year, the breakup began in May.
That was last year.
Weekdays always begin the same. The alarm goes off and you are startled out of dreams that you immediately forget. Predawn light in a dim room. Stagger into a hot shower and try to wake up all the way. Feel the scalding hot water on the back of your neck. Fragment of a dream, you were deep in some problem set now escaping you, just as you tried to escape it in the dream. Duck down the halls of memory—gone. Dreams don’t want to be remembered.
Evaluate the night’s sleep: not so good. Anna Quibler was exhausted already. Joe had cried twice, and though it was Charlie who had gotten up to reassure him, as part of conveying to Joe that Mom would never again visit him at night, Anna had of course woken up too, and vaguely heard Charlie’s reassurances: “Hey. Joe. What’s up. Go back to sleep, buddy, nothing gets to happen until morning, this is pointless this wailing, good night damn it.”
After that she had tossed and turned, trying not to think of work. In general Anna’s thoughts had a tropism toward work. Last night had been no different.
Shower over, she dried and dressed in three minutes. Downstairs she filled a lunch box for her older boy, same as always, as required: peanut butter sandwich, five carrots, apple, chocolate milk, yogurt, roll of lunch meat, cheese stick, cookie. As she got the coldpack out of the freezer she saw the neat rows of plastic bottles full of her frozen milk, there for Charlie to thaw and feed to Joe during the day. That reminded her—not that she would have forgotten much longer, given how full her breasts felt—that she had to nurse the bairn before she left. She clumped back upstairs and lifted Joe out of his crib, sat on the couch beside it. “Hey love, time for some sleepy nurses.”
Joe glommed on to her while still almost entirely asleep. With his eyes closed he looked like an angel. He was getting bigger but she could still cradle him in her arms and watch him curl into her like a new infant. Closer to two than one now, and a regular bruiser, a wild man who wearied her; but not now. The warm sensation of being suckled put her body back to sleep, but a part of her mind was already at work, and so she kept to the schedule, detached him and shifted him around to the other breast for four more minutes. When they were done he would go back to sleep and snooze happily until about nine, Charlie said.
She hefted him back into his crib, buttoned up and kissed all her boys lightly on the head. Charlie mumbled “Call me, be careful.” Then she was down the stairs and out the door, her big work bag over her shoulder.
The cool air on her face woke her fully for the first time that day. It was May now but the mornings still had a bit of chill to them, a delicious sensation given the humid heat to come. Truck traffic roared south. Splashes of sunlight struck the blue sheen of the windows on the skyscrapers up at Bethesda Metro.
Anna passed the Metro elevator kiosk to extend her walk by fifty yards, then turned and clumped down the stairs to the bus stop. Then down the escalator into the dimness of the great tube of ribbed concrete. Card on turnstile, thwack as the triangular barriers disappeared, down the escalator to the tracks. No train there, none coming immediately, so she sat down on a concrete bench, opened her tablet, and began to study one of the jackets, as they still called them: the grant proposals that the National Science Foundation received at a rate of fifty thousand a year. “Algorithmic Analysis of Palindromic Codons as Predictors of a Gene’s Protein Expression.” The proposal’s algorithm had shown some success in predicting which proteins any given gene sequence would express. As genes expressed a huge variety of proteins by unknown ways, this would be very useful. Anna was dubious, but genomics was not her field. It would be one to give to Frank Vanderwal. She noted it as such and queued it in a forward to him.
The arrival of a train, the getting on and finding of a seat, the change of trains at Metro Center, the getting off at the Ballston stop in Arlington, Virginia: all were actions accomplished without conscious thought, as she read proposals. The first one still struck her as the most interesting of the morning’s bunch. She would be interested to hear what Frank made of it.
Coming out of a Metro station is the same everywhere: up a long escalator, toward an oval of gray sky and the heat of the day. Emerge abruptly into a busy urban scene.
The Ballston stop’s distinction was that the escalator topped out in a vestibule leading to the glass doors of a building. Anna entered this building, went to the open-walled shop selling pastries and sandwiches, and bought a lunch to eat later at her desk. Then she went back out to Starbucks.
This particular Starbucks was graced by a staff maniacally devoted to speed and precision. Anna loved to see it; she liked efficiency anywhere she found it, and more so as she grew older. That a group of young people could turn what was potentially a very boring job into a kind of strenuous athletic performance struck her as admirable. Now it cheered her again to move rapidly forward in the long queue, and see the woman at the computer spot her when she was two back in line and call out to her teammates, “Tall latte half-caf, nonfat, no foam!” and then, when Anna got to the front of the line, ask her if she wanted anything else today. It was easy to smile as she shook her head.
Then outside again and around to the NSF building. Inside she showed her badge to security, went to the elevators.
Anna liked the NSF building’s interior. The structure was hollow, featuring a gigantic central atrium, an octagonal space that extended from floor to skylight, twelve stories above. This empty space, as big as some buildings, was walled by the interior windows of all the NSF offices. Its upper part was occupied by a large hanging mobile, made of curved metal bars painted in primary colors. The ground floor was occupied by various small businesses facing the atrium—pizza place, hairstylist, travel agency, bank outlet.
A disturbance caught Anna’s eye. Across the atrium there was a flurry of maroon, a flash of brass, and then a resonant low chord sounded, filling the big space with a vibrating blaaa, as if the atrium itself were a kind of huge horn.
A bunch of Tibetans, it looked like: men and women wearing belted maroon robes and yellow winged caps. Some played long straight horns, others thumped drums or swung censers, dispensing clouds of sandalwood smoke. They crossed the atrium chanting and swirling, all in majestic slow motion.
They headed for the travel agency, and for a second Anna wondered if they had come to book a flight home. But then she saw that the travel agency’s windows were empty. In the doorway the Tibetanesque performers were now massing, in a crescendo of chant and brassy brass, the incredibly low notes vibrating the air. In the midst of the celebrants stood an old man, his brown face a maze of deep wrinkles. He smiled, raised his right hand, and the music came to a ragged end in a hyperbass note that fluttered Anna’s stomach.
The old man stepped free of the group and bowed to the four directions. He dipped his chin and sang, his voice splitting into two notes, with a resonant head tone distinctly audible over the clear bass, all very surprising coming out of such a slight man. Singing thus, he walked to the doorway of the travel agency and touched the doorjambs on each side, exclaiming something sharp each time.
“Rig yal ba! Chos min gon pa!”
The others all exclaimed, “Jetsun Gyatso!”
The old man bowed to them.
And then they all cried, “Om!” and filed into the little office space, the brassmen angling their long horns to make it in the door.
A young monk came back out. He took a small rectangular card from the loose sleeve of his robe, pulled some protective backing from it, and affixed it to the window next to the door. Then he retreated inside.
Anna approached the window. The little sign said
EMBASSY OF KHEMBALUNG
An embassy! And from a country she had never heard of. This was a strange place for an embassy, very far from Massachusetts Avenue’s ambassadorial stretch of unlikely architecture, unfamiliar flags, and expensive landscaping; far from Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Foggy Bottom, east Capitol Hill, or any of the other likely haunts for locating a respectable embassy. Not just in Arlington, but in the NSF building no less!
Maybe it was a scientific country.
Pleased at the thought, Anna approached closer still.
The young man who had put out the sign reappeared. He had a round face, a shaved head, and a quick little mouth, like Betty Boop’s.
His expressive black eyes met hers. “Can I help you?” he said, in what sounded to her almost like an Indian accent.
“Yes,” Anna said. “I saw your arrival ceremony, and I was wondering where you all come from.”
“Thank you for your interest,” the youth said politely, ducking his head and smiling. “We are from Khembalung.”
“Yes, but . . .”
“Ah. Our country is an island nation, in the Bay of Bengal, near the mouth of the Ganges.”
“I see,” Anna said, surprised; she had thought they would be from somewhere in the Himalayas. “I hadn’t heard of it.”
“It is not a big island. Nation status has been a recent development, you could say. Only now are we establishing a representation.”
“Good idea. Although, to tell the truth, I’m surprised to see an embassy in here. I didn’t think of this as being the right kind of space.”
“We chose it very carefully,” the young monk said.
They regarded each other.
“Well,” Anna said, “very interesting. Good luck moving in. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Thank you.” Again he nodded.
As Anna turned to go, something caused her to look back. The young monk still stood there in the doorway, looking across at the pizza place, his face marked by a tiny grimace of distress.
Anna recognized the expression. After her older son Nick was born she had shared the care of him with Charlie and some babysitters, and eventually they had taken him to a daycare center in Bethesda, near the Metro. At first Nick had cried furiously whenever she left, which she found excruciating; but then he had seemed to get used to it. And so did she, adjusting as everyone must to the small pains of the daily departure. It was just the way it was.
Then one day she had taken Nick down to the daycare center, and he didn’t cry when she said good-bye, didn’t even seem to care or to notice. But for some reason she had paused to look back in the window of the place, and there on his face she saw a look of unhappy, stoical determination—determination not to cry, determination to get through another long lonely boring day—a look that on the face of a toddler was heartbreaking. It had pierced her like an arrow. She had cried out involuntarily, even started to rush back inside to take him in her arms and comfort him. Then she reconsidered how another good-bye would affect him, and with a horrible wrenching feeling, a sort of despair at all the world, she had left.
Now here was that very same look, on the face of this young man! Anna stopped in her tracks, feeling again that stab from years before. Who knew what had caused these people to come halfway around the world? Who knew what they had left behind?
She walked back over to him.
He saw her coming, composed his features. “Yes?”
“If you want,” she said, “later on, when it’s convenient, I could show you some of the good lunch spots in this neighborhood.”
“Why, thank you,” he said. “That would be most kind.”
“Is there a particular day that would be good?”
“Well—we will be getting hungry today,” he said, and smiled. He had a sweet smile, not unlike Nick’s.
She smiled too, feeling pleased. “I’ll come back at one, if you like.”
“That would be most welcome. Very kind.”
She nodded. “At one, then,” already recalibrating her work schedule for the day. The boxed sandwich could be stored in her office’s little refrigerator.
With that Anna went to the south elevators. Waiting there she was joined by Frank Vanderwal, one of her program officers. They greeted each other, and she said, “Hey, I’ve got an interesting jacket for you.”
He mock-rolled his eyes. “Is there any such thing for a burnt-out case like me?”
“Oh I think so.” She gestured back at the atrium. “Did you see our new neighbor? We lost the travel agency but gained an embassy.”
“An embassy, here?”
“I’m not sure they know much about Washington.”
“Ah.” Frank grinned his crooked grin, very different than the young monk’s sweet smile. “Ambassadors from Shangri-La, eh?” One of the up arrows lit, and the elevator door under it opened. “Well, we can use them.”
Primates in elevators. People stood in silence looking up at the lit numbers on the display console, as per custom.