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Home » How Sci-Fi Informs Our Climate Future — and What to Do Next: Zainab Usman (Transcript)

How Sci-Fi Informs Our Climate Future — and What to Do Next: Zainab Usman (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Zainab Usman’s talk titled “How Sci-Fi Informs Our Climate Future — and What to Do Next” at TED conference.

Political economist Zainab Usman’s talk, titled “How Sci-Fi Informs Our Climate Future — and What to Do Next,” delves into the intriguing parallels between science fiction narratives and current global challenges in combating climate change. Usman highlights how science fiction authors, despite their diverse backgrounds and traditions, converge on a common theme: a fragmented world struggling to unite against a universal threat.

Drawing examples from Cixin Liu’s “The Three-Body Problem” and George Orwell’s “1984,” she illustrates how these fictional worlds reflect our own geopolitical divisions, which could hinder collective action against climate change. Usman argues that the innovation and deployment of low-carbon technologies are concentrated in a few technologically advanced regions, exacerbating global inequalities.

She emphasizes the necessity of global cooperation, not only in technology transfer but also in establishing equitable commercial practices and global standards for sourcing strategic minerals. The talk concludes with a call to action for policymakers, business leaders, and intellectuals to prioritize long-term ecological balance and shared prosperity over short-term political and economic gains. Usman’s persuasive argument underscores the importance of collective action and global standards in addressing the multifaceted challenges of climate change.

Listen to the audio version here:


We don’t have to look far to see how humanity’s fight against climate change might play out. Science fiction authors from around the world, writing from different traditions, coalesce on one point: a divided world, unable to fight the common threat. In Cixin Liu’s “The Three-Body Problem” trilogy, the threat of aliens from a dying planet invading to conquer Earth does not bring humanity together.

Instead, a potent combination of fear, jingoism, and competition for scarce resources among countries fractures the world into competing geoeconomic blocs centered around three powers: the United States, China, and Europe. And none of these blocs succeed in staving off the alien invasion, with, as you can imagine, disastrous consequences for the survival of humanity. Sorry for the spoilers about the books.

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