Climate fiction (sometimes shortened cli-fi) is literature that deals with climate change and global warming. Not necessarily speculative in nature, works may take place in the world as we know it or in the near future. University courses on literature and environmental issues may include climate change fiction in their syllabi. This body of literature has been discussed by a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Dissent magazine, among other international media outlets.
The term "cli-fi" first came into use on April 20, 2013 when NPR did a five-minute radio segment by Angela Evancie on Weekend Edition Saturday to describe novels and movies that deal with human-induced climate change, and historically, there have been any number of literary works that dealt with climate change in earlier times as well. Dan Bloom has been an influential figure in the development of "cli-fi" as a distinct genre.
Jules Verne's 1889 novel The Purchase of the North Pole imagines climate change due to tilting of Earth's axis. In his posthumous Paris in the Twentieth Century, written in 1883 and set during the 1960s, the titular city experiences a sudden drop in temperature, which lasts for three years. Several well-known dystopian works by British author J. G. Ballard deal with climate-related natural disasters: In The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilization is reduced by persistent hurricane-force winds, and The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels caused by solar radiation. In The Burning World (1964, later called The Drought) his climate catastrophe is human-made, a drought due to disruption of the precipitation cycle by industrial pollution.
As scientific knowledge of the effects of fossil fuel consumption and resulting increase in atmospheric CO
2 concentrations entered the public and political arena as "global warming", fiction about the problems of human-induced global warming began to appear. Susan M. Gaines's Carbon Dreams was an early example of a literary novel that "tells a story about the devastatingly serious issue of human-induced climate change," set in the 1980s and published before the term "cli-fi" was coined. Michael Crichton's State of Fear (2004), a techno-thriller portrays climate change as "a vast pseudo-scientific hoax" and is critical of scientific opinion on climate change.
Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). In Oryx and Crake Atwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event". The novel's protagonist, Jimmy, lives in a "world split between corporate compounds", gated communities that have grown into city-states and pleeblands, which are "unsafe, populous and polluted" urban areas where the working classes live.
Cultural critic Josephine Livingston at The New Republic: "From Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation to Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow, the last decade has seen such a steep rise in sophisticated 'cli-fi' that some literary publications now devote whole verticals to it. With such various and fertile imaginations at work on the same topic, whether in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge facing the environmental writer now is standing out from the crowd (not to mention the headlines)."
The popular science-fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson focused on the theme in his Science in the Capital trilogy, which is set in the near future and includes Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). Robert K. J. Killheffer in his review for Fantasy & Science Fiction said "Forty Signs of Rain is a fascinating depiction of the workings of science and politics, and an urgent call to readers to confront the threat of climate change." Robinson's climate-themed novel, titled New York 2140, was published in March 2017. It gives a complex portrait of a coastal city that is partly underwater and yet has successfully adapted to climate change in its culture and ecology.
Ian McEwan's Solar (2010) follows the story of a physicist who discovers a way to fight climate change after managing to derive power from artificial photosynthesis. The Stone Gods (2007) by Jeanette Winterson is set on the fictional planet Orbus, a world very like Earth, running out of resources and suffering from the severe effects of climate change. Inhabitants of Orbus hope to take advantage of possibilities offered by a newly discovered planet, Planet Blue, which appears perfect for human life.
Other authors who have used this subject matter include:
- British author J. G. Ballard used the setting of apocalyptic climate changes in his first science fiction novels. In The Wind from Nowhere (1961) civilisation is reduced by persistent hurricane-force winds. The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels, caused by solar radiation, creating a landscape mirroring the collective unconscious desires of the main characters. In The Burning World (1964) a surrealistic psychological landscape is formed by drought due to industrial pollution disrupting the precipitation cycle.
- Mother of Storms (1994) by John Barnes describes a catastrophic, rapid climate and weather change brought on by a nuclear explosion releasing clathrate compounds from the ocean floor, based on the clathrate gun hypothesis.
- The Carbon Diaries: 2015 by Saci Lloyd is set in a future where power is scarce and the UK has just begun carbon rationing. The story is told in diary form by Laura Brown, a teenager living in London in the aftermath of The Great Storm.
- Far North (2009) by Marcel Theroux, in which the world is largely uninhabitable due to climate change. However, the novel implies that scientists got it wrong and that it was our actions combating global warming that irrevocably altered the climate.
- Arctic Drift (2008) by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler. A thriller involving attempts to reverse global warming, a possible war between the United States and Canada, and “a mysterious silvery mineral traced to a long-ago expedition in search of the fabled Northwest Passage.”
- Fallen Angels (1991) by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn. Set in North America in the "near future", a radical technophobic green movement dramatically cuts greenhouse gas emissions, only to find that manmade global warming was staving off a new ice age.
- Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007) comprise the Science in the Capital series, a hard science fiction trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Set primarily in Washington, D.C., abrupt climate change causes weather disasters in the US capitol and flooding of the fictional island nation of Khembalung. Main characters are American scientists, politicians, and Buddhist monks.
- Solar (2010) by Ian McEwan follows the story of a physicist who discovers a way to fight climate change after managing to derive power from artificial photosynthesis.
- State of Fear (2004) a techno-thriller by Michael Crichton concerning a group of eco-terrorists attempting to create "natural" disasters to convince the public of the dangers of global warming. The book is critical of the Scientific opinion on climate change and accusing its proponents of using fear tactics.
- The Stone Gods (2007) by Jeanette Winterson. This novel opens on the planet Orbus, a world very like Earth, running out of resources and suffering from the severe effects of climate change. Inhabitants of Orbus hope to take advantage of possibilities offered by a newly discovered planet, Planet Blue, which appears perfect for human life.
- Omar El Akkad, American War (2017) US
- Steven Amsterdam, Things We Didn't See Coming (2009) US
- Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (2009), Ship Breaker (2010) US with follow up novels The Drowned Cities (2012), The Water Knife (2015) US and Tool of War (2017)
- J. G. Ballard, The Crystal World (1988) UK
- Stephen Baxter, Flood (2008) US and Ark (2009)
- Julie Bertagna, Exodus (2002) UK - First of trilogy including Zenith
- Ben Bova, Empire Builders (2011) US
- T.C. Boyle, A Friend of the Earth (2000) US
- David Brin, Earth (1990) US
- Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993) US with follow up novel Parable of the Talents (1998)
- Rajat Chaudhuri
- David Chernushenko, Burning Souls (2019) Canada
- Rin Chupeco, The Never Tilting World (2019) US
- Magee Gee, The Ice People (1998) US and The Flood (2004) US
- Ray Hammond, Extinction (2005), UK
- Emmi Itäranta, Memory of Water (2015) Finland
- Liz Jensen, The Rapture (2009) England
- Christian Kracht, Metan [Methane] (2007) Germany
- John Lanchester, The Wall (2019) UK
- Doris Lessing, Mara and Dann (2004) US and the follow up novel The Story of General Dann and Maria's
- Sophie Mackintosh, The Water Cure (2018) UK
- David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (2014) UK
- Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014) US
- Richard Powers, The Overstory (2018) US
- Nathaniel Rich, Odds Against Tomorrow (2013) US
- Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312 (2012) US
- Craig Russell, Fragment (2016) Canada
- Marcus Sedgwick, Floodland (2001) US (2007) and Aurora (2011)
- Sherri L. Smith, Orleans (2013) US
- Norman Spinrad, Greenhouse Summer (1999) US
- Yoko Tawada, The Emissary (2018) Germany/Japan
- Ilija Trojanow, EisTau [Ice Thaw] (2011) Germany - English Title The Lamentations of Zeno
- George Turner, The Sea and Summer [Drowning Towers] (1987) Australia
- Claire Vaye Watkins, Gold Fame Citrus (2015) US
Anthologies and collections
- Welcome to the Greenhouse (2011) US edited by Gordon Van Gelder
- Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction (2015) US edited by John Joseph Adams
- Drowned Worlds (2016) UK edited by Jonathan Strahan
- Possible Solutions (2017) US by Helen Phillips - Many of the short stories concern climate change.
Many journalists, literary critics, and scholars and have speculated about the potential influence of climate fiction on the beliefs of its readers. To date, two empirical studies have examined this question.
One found that readers of climate fiction "are younger, more liberal, and more concerned about climate change than nonreaders," and that climate fiction "reminds concerned readers of the severity of climate change while impelling them to imagine environmental futures and consider the impact of climate change on human and nonhuman life. However, the actions that resulted from readers’ heightened consciousness reveal that awareness is only as valuable as the cultural messages about possible actions to take that are in circulation. Moreover, the responses of some readers suggest that works of climate fiction might lead some people to associate climate change with intensely negative emotions, which could prove counterproductive to efforts at environmental engagement or persuasion."
Another empirical study, focused on the novel The Water Knife, found that cautionary climate fiction set in a dystopic future can be effective at educating readers about climate injustice and leading readers to empathize with the victims of climate change, including environmental migrants. However, its results suggest that dystopic climate narratives might lead to support for reactionary responses to climate change. Based on this result, it cautioned that “not all climate fiction is progressive,” despite the hopes of many authors, critics, and readers.
- Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction
- Global warming in popular culture
- Media coverage of climate change
- Public opinion on climate change
- Utopian and dystopian fiction
- Glass, Rodge (May 31, 2013). "Global Warning: The Rise of 'Cli-fi'" retrieved March 3, 2016
- Bloom, Dan (10 March 2015). "'Cli-Fi' Reaches into Literature Classrooms Worldwide". Inter Press Service News Agency. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
- PÉREZ-PEÑA, RICHARD. "College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change". New York Times (April 1, 2014 pg A12). Retrieved 31 March 2015.
- Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca (Summer 2013). "Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre". Dissent. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
- "So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
- Milner A and Burgmann JR. Cli-Fi Climate Fiction and Climate Change, Monash University https://www.monash.edu/mcccrh/projects/climate-fiction
- Arthur B. Evans, "The 'New' Jules Verne". Science–fiction Studies, XXII:1 no. 65 (March 1995), pp. 35-46. and Brian Taves, "Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century". Science Fiction Studie no. 71, Volume 24, Part 1, March 1997. 
- Litt, Toby (21 January 2009). "The best of JG Ballard" – via The Guardian.
- Spencer Weart (2003). "The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect". The Discovery of Global Warming.
- Wilson, Elizabeth K. "Novelist Combines CO2 and Romance", Chemical and Engineering News, June 4, 2001.
- Slovic, Scott. "Science, Eloquence, and the Asymmetry of Trust: What’s at Stake in Climate Change Fiction" Green Theory & Praxis: The Journal of Ecopedagogy Volume 4, No. 1 (2008) ISSN 1941-0948 doi: 10.3903/gtp.2008.1.6 100
- Crum, Maddie (12 November 2014). "Margaret Atwood: 'I Don't Call It Climate Change. I Call It The Everything Change'". The Huffington Post.
- "Fiction Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood".
- Publishers Weekly/
- Killheffer, Robert K. J. (October 2004). "White Devils/The Zenith Angle/Forty Signs of Rain (Book)". Fantasy & Science Fiction. 107 (4/5): 39–46. ISSN 1095-8258.
- Canavan, Gerry (11 March 2017). "Utopia in the Time of Trump". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
- Flood, Alison (4 August 2009). "McEwan's new novel will feature media hate figure" – via The Guardian.
- "The Stone Gods - Jeanette Winterson".
- Walsh, Bryan (8 November 2012). "Barbara Kingsolver on Flight Behavior and Why Climate Change Is Part of Her Story". TIME. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
- "Martyn Ellington". Martyn Ellington.
- BookBrowse website, Arctic Drift, retrieved on 2009-04-14.
- Random House, Inc. website, "Sixty Days and Counting'" Retrieved on 2009-04-14
- biblio.com website, "Books by Kim Stanley Robinson" Retrieved on 2009-04-14
- The Guardian website, "McEwan's new novel will feature media hate figure" Retrieved on 2010-02-01
- Jeanettewinterson.com website, "The Stone Gods" Retrieved on 2010-01-02
- "Review: Fragment by Craig Russell". Resilience. 2017-09-05. Retrieved 2020-10-09.
- Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew (November 2018). "The Influence of Climate Fiction: An Empirical Survey of Readers". Environmental Humanities. 10.
- Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew (2020-05-01). ""Just as in the Book"? The Influence of Literature on Readers' Awareness of Climate Injustice and Perception of Climate Migrants". ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 27 (2): 337–364. doi:10.1093/isle/isaa020. ISSN 1076-0962.
- Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson. Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press, 2014
- Andrew Milner and J.R. Burgmann. Science Fiction and Climate Change: A Sociological Approach. Liverpool University Press, 2020.
- Antonia Mehnert. Climate Change Fictions: Representations of Global Warming in American Literature. Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.
- Matthew Schneider-Mayerson. "Climate Change Fiction." In American Literature in Transition, 2000-2010, edited by Rachel Greenwald Smith. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Adam Trexler. Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change. University of Virginia Press, 2015.
- Shelley Streeby. Imagining the Future in a Time of Climate Change. University of California Press, 2018.
- Cli-Fi Global Report
- Cli-Fi in American Studies: A Research Bibliography
- Climate Fiction in English: Oxford Research Encyclopedia
- With climate change fiction, novelists aim for 'radical empathy'
- Climate Change Dystopia, discusses current popularity of climate change dystopia.