Crazy Big Ideas: The Value of Science Fiction for Conceiving Antarctic Futures

The “Crazy Big Ideas” panel seminar foregrounds seemingly outlandish propositions for environmental remediation or rescue in Antarctica. The seminar was run on Monday 19 September in a blended mode – in person on the University of Wollongong campus and online via Zoom. Those able to attend in person were first treated to a tour of the Antarctic Futures exhibition that is being displayed in the UOW Gallery from 17 August to 19 October 2022.

The discussion took its lead from Kim Stanley Robinson, whose utopian sci-fi novels, set in the near-future, dramatise some Crazy Big Ideas. For example, Antarctica (1997) takes seriously a role for eco-terrorism to stop oil mining on the frozen continent. Ministry for the Future (2020) plays out large-scale geo-engineering solutions like drilling to bedrock to stop melting Antarctic glaciers sliding into the ocean. 

Are these just speculative science-fiction scenarios, or should we take them seriously as blueprints for future action?

Questions arise!

  • What could possibly go wrong? What about unintended consequences?
  • Can we afford not to act?
  • Who has the right to act? (and on behalf of whom?)

This panel offered generative ways to think about agency, decision-making, collectivity, urgency, and why/how everyday life feels cut off from Crazy Big Ideas.


Dr Hilary Strang is the Director of the Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities at University of Chicago. She works on science fiction (SF) as a way of thinking and feeling beyond capitalism into collective, communal life, with particular interests in the feminist SF of the 1970s, environmental and ecological SF, utopia and utopianism, and Marxist and communist theory. She is a co-host (with Matt Hauske) of Marooned! On Mars, a podcast about Kim Stanley Robinson and utopian science fiction.

David Spratt is Research Coordinator for the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, the co-author of Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action (Scribe, 2008), and has written for The Guardian, The Age, Rolling Stone, Energiewende Magazin, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Crikey and  Renew Economy. He blogs at on climate science, existential risk, IPCC reticence, the climate emergency, and climate movement strategy. He tweets at @djspratt. 

Dr. Lucas Ihlein is an artist/researcher/teacher in Creative Arts at University of Wollongong, and a student at Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation. He likes working with farmers and soil and inventors of interesting systems. In recent years he’s done projects about carbon sequestration, sugarcane, Illawarra creeks, and sea-level rise in China. Nearly always, lots of collaborators are involved, and everyone bites off more than they can chew, leaving a whole lot of undigested nutrients afterwards. Lucas frequently irritates colleagues by suggesting they read Kim Stanley Robinson. Website:

See below for questions and comments posted in the Q&A box (unfortunately some of which the panellists did not have time to address):
1. Does KSR interest in approaches to the future mixed with relationships (love and friendship) address the what and how?
2. The notion of an end to nature seems a little like human exceptionalism. A permission to keep messing with things under the guise human existential threat…or something…and that means given the imbalance of interests represented these interventions will be performed in the interests of the few to keep living the way they do…
3. Not a question – just a comment on David’s point. There is an interesting legal discussion regarding the ‘Rights of Nature’ that has been particularly active in the context of rivers. If a river can have legally recognisable ‘rights’, why not glaciers.
4. Dipesh Chakrabarty, over ten years ago, pointed out that the humanities were ill-equipped to deal with climate change. Here you’re pointing to a Sci-Fi novel as potentially instructive for dealing with climate change. WHat does a climate conscious humanities look like? Possibly one for Hilary…
5. I love the idea that sci fi can make the un-thinkable thinkable -and shape public sentiment to create political change. But Ministry sometimes feels like West Wing for the eco age. ie – a comforting fiction of righteous smart people who prevail against the odds. (I haven’t finished it tho… maybe they don’t prevail?)
6. After reading the book, the yawning gap is the agreement and execution of an overarching global plan.
Rather we seem to be long-term subscribers to the notion of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand… we seem to be living in hope that business investment, scientific research, Paris agreement targets  and innovation will self-organise in time to avert disaster.
Stan, Bill Gates, John Doerr have all penned plans.
Does the panel see any comprehensive plans on the horizon and which bodies do you reckon could be charged with enacting / executing?
Andrew Kelly, The Antarctic Science Foundation
7. Dear Everyone, love this panel but have to now go and teach –  thanks so much for this panel – thanks especially to Hillary, David, Lucas and Melinda – and everyone who helped organize this session.
8. Imagine a possible future in which story tellers unite and choose to tell the stories we NEED and not what those that we necessarily WANT. Just an idea. Happy to help. John 😊
9. How will traditional conservation or environmental ideas help or hinder the possibility of intervention in Antarctica?
10. Thank you to the panel, I appreciate your insights.
11. Top show, thank you.
12. Thankyou all

13. Thanks all!

14. That was fantastic, thank you


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