$25 Million

Could we give the trees $25 million dollars?

I recently saw Potawatomi botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer speak at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, challenges us to rethink our connection to the land we live on and is reshaping what it means to be an environmentalist.

Robin Wall Kimmerer presenting at UW-Oshkosh

Her book wasn’t an instant publishing success. It took seven years to reach the New York Times bestseller list, which to me is even more impressive than an instant launch. Her bestseller status isn’t the result of a well-funded marketing campaign, but word of mouth. Readers felt moved to share it with others, driving a readership all the way to the NYT list. In 2022, The Washington Post reported that she’d sold 1.4 million copiesNot bad for a book that started with a small midwestern publisher and an initial print run of 5,000 copies.

One part of her talk I found very thought-provoking was her description of an environmental competition. Whoever comes up with the best way to permanently remove carbon from the air wins. The prize? $25 million.

The contest served to spur technological advancement, but Kimmerer pointed out that we already have something that does that: forests. Forests can sense higher levels of carbon in the air and in turn grow faster to combat the disbalance. And yet we cut them down, removing a working system that does the very job we want to develop technology to do.

Where does this leave me as a science fiction author actively imagining futuristic worlds? I’ve been asking myself that a lot as I draft this new book.

I think you know by now I enjoy writing to themes. It’s Over or It’s Eden is just as much about colonization and religion as it is aliens. Dangerous to Heal and Negotiated Fate are about a woman on the run but also late-stage capitalism.

In this next book, nicknamed Universal Pulse by my Facebook group, I’m doing a lot of writing and thinking about systems, both natural and human-created. In the last few months, I’ve been influenced by researchers like Kimmerer, my time at Space Economy Camp, and non-fiction books about space.

Like many of you, climate change is on my mind and it’s not a surprise it shows up in my work. Each Earth Day, I feel there’s at once more optimism and less certainty than ever. None of us can solve environmental destruction on our own, but we can advocate for our future together.

A satellite view of Earth

For me, challenging my notions about the future through the written word or reading books like The Terraformers allows me to daydream about technology in balance with nature. (Well, it’s a daydream to me. There have been an awful lot of hard things happening to my characters lately.)

There’s so much daydreaming to be had, so many ideas to discuss—solarpunk, electric cars, cottagecore, sustainable space habitats. I don’t see science fiction or technology at odds with a green future. We’re actively choosing, right now, what the future looks like. I can honor nature by designing technologically-filled worlds that remember our roots. Do my part as a thinker and creator to nudge ourselves towards systems in balance.

And honestly, it’s more than most can do. Remember that competition? The $25 million to the team with the best invention? It was never awarded.


Picture of I'm Rebecca Zornow

I'm Rebecca Zornow

A science fiction author living in Wisconsin, I love traveling, eating good food, and reading long books.


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