Spectrum: Could a Western society do it?
Robinson: Maybe, but not for profit. And capitalism is for profit. The problem in the West, in our version of capitalism, is that if you say the investment will pay off for the next generations, the investors will say, “Thanks, but I need quarterly profits at the highest rate of return,” and go back to immiserating labor and strip-mining the biosphere in their usual way. We have allowed the market to rule us like an emperor.
China’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” seems to mean a state-controlled economy that directs the private sector and can pay the private sector. They might be quicker to take on this obviously not-for-profit venture. China is better equipped mentally and structurally to do it.
Spectrum: Your books tend to be one book masquerading as another book. The Mars trilogy is ostensibly a book about terraforming Mars, but it actually turns out to be a manifesto for turning a utopian political philosophy into reality (or not). So here we have a book that is ostensibly about colonizing the moon. What is this one really about?
Robinson: Yes, my books definitely do what you’re talking about. But for Red Moon, which is set so close to the current moment, the underlying “really” is the same thing as the explicit plot—it’s about China taking over the moon. China and the United States are the two crucial players in world history in our time, and neither country has a really effective system of political representation, and both exist in an important way under the rule of global capital, a rule that is wrecking the biosphere and people’s lives.
Can ordinary citizens in these two countries team up to take the world back from capital and return it to real political representation? We’ll need to do that to stabilize human civilization in Earth’s biosphere. We’ll need to change the way we value things. Once we figure that out, then we’ll be poised to go further into the solar system. Not as an escape hatch—that’s a pernicious fantasy. The solar system deserves to be studied and explored apart from its market value, just as a subject of comparative planetology, to learn things we need to know. Space science is crucial for the survival of civilization.
He seems to think it ought to be possible to build moon bases in 28 years, by 2047. They will be like the McMurdo and South Pole stations, in terms of how they will be built (in stages), and in terms of how they operate.