A quick heads up: Most, if not all of the works referenced in this article contain content that may be disturbing for some readers.
Climate fiction, dubbed cli-fi, centers around the cold and destitute future humanity sets up for itself by worsening the climate crisis. The term cli-fi was coined by freelance writer Dan Bloom in 2011 and rose to fame when Margret Atwood used it in a 2012 Tweet. Since then, there has been a spike in climate fiction from writers and activists all over the world.
Climate fiction brings to reality outcomes scientists use statistics to warn people about. Literature is well-known for increasing empathy and awareness in readers, and climate fiction does just that by reflecting the world humans already live in through the mirror of a climate-crisis ravaged wasteland.
Unlike the white, male-dominated traditional science fiction, climate fiction is more diverse, with women and people of color at the forefront. It is an international movement, from Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, author of both divisive climate change nonfiction and groundbreaking climate fiction, to Waanyi author Alexis Wright, author of The Swan Girl, a dark, stream-of-consciousness tale set in the near future where climate change refugees have found their way to Australia.
There are many more climate fiction works, some by well-known authors, others published on the Web by independent authors, that strike true to the heart of both this genre and the climate crisis today. However, while the influence of literary works on increased empathy and awareness is well-known, an article from Smithsonian magazine argues that these exaggerated portrayals can have the opposite effect. It states that “portraying such a far-fetched scenario can be irresponsible because ‘then when people actually hear a realistic climate prediction, they may think, well that’s not as bad…’” This disclaimer applies to many of the works in this article, which contain futuristic depictions of the world, but also tackle social issues in ways that leave readers sick and reeling and all too aware of the importance of these issues in their own lives.
A bigger part of climate fiction, like any other sci-fi and dystopian genre, is the presence and effect of the worst aspects of human nature. Authors use desperate people–people who struggle between following the natural inclination to conform in a ravaged world or striking out on their own, people who want to support their beliefs but also survive, and people who are caught in the worst of these fictional outcomes of climate crises–to reflect the readers themselves, but it is a danger if the reader cannot see it.
A staple climate fiction series is Margret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy, set in a world where the weather rages and natural disasters occur on the daily. The main plotline of the book is post-plague, in which survivors survive off what little they can find and attempt to outrun genetically modified animals. Oryx and Crake is significant because, as is typical of Atwood, it reveals the worst possible scenario with unflinching harshness. While climate change is one of many factors that create this jarring dystopia, elements that go into climate change, such as the overconsumption of technology and the monopolization of resources.
In contrast to big-name, Margret Atwood, the short story that actually introduced me to this genre was “Solution” by Brian Evenson, a dark, gripping tale of a scientist that makes a plan to solve climate change that, as the summary states, “would shame the devil.” This story shows the worst of both human governments, tells tales of class and elitism, grapples with the decision of who is useful and who is not, and shows the ethical deterioration of a sympathetic main character.
Cli-fi books such as War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi bring in common elements of sci-fi such as biopunk, which imagines the future of biotechnology. In War Girls, soldiers have mechanical limbs and artificial organs, which protect them from the harshness of a post-climate catastrophe world. Climate fiction has the potential to interact with, not only science fiction and dystopian settings, but also bring in technological innovation different from what we see today. Even better, climate fiction authors can the same machines and methodologies used today for different purposes to highlight the severity of the future setting.
Climate fiction is incredibly important to bringing a human aspect to the climate crisis, to going further than news reports and statistics. As art, it has the potential to bring people closer to the crisis. Not only that, climate fiction books and short stories are excellent studies on the human psyche and characters’ own desperation and trauma.
Even short stories, such as “Solution” or anything from the Everything Changes (Volume 1 here and Volume 2 here) anthologies, can serve as gripping reads.
is a high school student in New Jersey. They like (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and are always up to learn something new! Find them on Instagram at @writing_stoot.
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