Isaac Asimov’s Foundation as a reflection of the modern Climate Crisis

I read the first book (not including the prequels) in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was more than a little trepidatious about Asimov’s trilogy simply because classics can always be a bit of hit or miss, and I am not that big into Space Opera’s. I should not have been worried because this first book was quite easy to get lost in.

Foundation (book 1) is the story of a dying empire, but you wouldn’t know that from the face of it. The empire as thrived for some 12 thousand years with prosperity and (I think) peace across the galaxy. The only hint that the galaxy is doomed comes from a mathematician is has become an expert in the fictional field psychohistory. Psychohistory proposes to use the data of the present and history to project forward what will happen, to various level of probability. The Foundation is the result of this mathematician, Hari Seldon, who suggests we need an encyclopedia galactica to hold all our knowledge of the arts and sciences. It is not merely a love of culture that Seldon clings to; it is the notion that an extended period of dark ages in the galaxy will come to pass and only with the Foundation do we hope to lessen (not stop) it’s severity. That is, 30,000 years of darkness, but with Seldon’s help we may shorten that to 1000 years.

Big picture, I loved the premise and the writing. It’s a little bland. Our characters don’t have much depth. The story is presented less as a coherent narrative than a progression of linear short stories (or novellas) as we begin to fall into the dark ages. As some reviewers have noted (on Goodreads), Asimov doesn’t do much to build his characters or allow them to evolve, nor he does he do much to convince the reader to feel invested in the Foundation. While I love a good character driven narrative, I personally still loved this one. I think the reason it worked was because of my inherent love of science and history. Asimov assumes the reader will have an appreciation for how necessary these aspects of our society are. Naturally, I latched on to the need to preserve scientific thought, and that alone really got me excited about the premise.

Image of Wild Fire (Reuters)

Fast forward to today, some 70 years after the books was published, and I can’t help but see similarities to the current Climate Crisis. Anthropogenic warming is incontrovertible. Denying that is like denying the covid vaccine, the moon landing, or 2+2 is 4 (is it though?). Heat waves, droughts, and floodings are happening at record rates across the world. In 1990 the IPCC predicted temperature rises between 1.5 to 4.5C by 2050; we are at 1C). They also predicted 30 to 50cm of sea level rise; we are at 20cm. That was 30 years ago. We’ve seen deniers of Covid despite the reality staring them in the face, and the problem is exacerbated in climate change because it is even harder for people to see because it requires a modicum of forethought.

Lake Mead, all time low (the height of Lady Liberty)

Even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases entirely, the negative effects would continue throughout the rest of the century. We have a global problem that is irrevocably damaging the planet, and even in the best of situations, the outcome is dire. Without concise action, the issue will magnify and eventually become irreversible; imagine trying to terraform Mars overnight because the longer we wait the more our problem becomes one of that caliber. Much like the book, we have leaders who don’t much care about what the future holds because they don’t have to live in it. It takes present consequences to promote action in the series, so at what point does that happen in the climate crisis? I fear only when it’s far too late.

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