Climate fiction

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Climate fiction, popularly abbreviated as cli-fi (modelled after the assonance of "sci-fi"), is literature that deals with climate change and global warming.[1][2] Not necessarily speculative in nature, works of cli-fi 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.[3] 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.[4]


The term "cli-fi" came into use in the late 2000s to describe novels and movies that deal with man-made climate change, and historically, there have been any number of literary works that dealt with climate change in earlier times as well.

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

As scientific knowledge of the effects of fossil fuel consumption and resulting increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations entered the public and political arena as "global warming",[8] 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[9] 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.[10]

Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013).[11] In Oryx and Crake Attwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event".[12] 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.[13]

Prominent examples[edit]

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."[14] Robinson's latest climate-themed novel, titled New York 2140, was published in March 2017.[15] 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.

The novels Not A Drop To Drink (2013) and its sequel, In A Handful Of Dust (2014), by Mindy McGinnis feature a small group of survivors living in the aftermath of an extreme shortage of fresh water following a severe, prolonged drought on a national scale.

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.[16] 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.[17]

Barbara Kingsolver's novel, Flight Behavior (2012), employs environmental themes and highlights the potential effects of global warming on the monarch butterfly.[18]

JL Morin's Nature's Confession (2015) portrays two teens in a fight to save a warming planet, the universe, and their love, as they try to stop humans from exporting their polluting culture to other habitable planets.

Devolution of a Species by M.E. Ellington focuses on the Gaia hypothesis, and describes the Earth as a single living organism fighting back against humankind.[19]

Other authors who have used this subject matter include Liz Jensen, Tony White, and Sarah Holding.[20]

Other examples[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glass, Rodge (May 31, 2013). "Global Warning: The Rise of 'Cli-fi'" retrieved March 3, 2016
  2. ^ Bloom, Dan (10 March 2015). "'Cli-Fi' Reaches into Literature Classrooms Worldwide". Inter Press Service News Agency. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  3. ^ PÉREZ-PEÑA, RICHARD. "College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change". New York Times (April 1, 2014 pg A12). Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  4. ^ Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca (Summer 2013). "Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre". Dissent. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  5. ^ Arthur B. Evans, "The 'New' Jules Verne". Science–fiction Studies, XXII:1 no. 65 (March 1995), pp. 35-46.[1] and Brian Taves, "Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century". Science Fiction Studie no. 71, Volume 24, Part 1, March 1997. [2]
  6. ^ Litt, Toby (21 January 2009). "The best of JG Ballard" – via The Guardian.
  7. ^ .
  8. ^ Spencer Weart (2003). "The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect". The Discovery of Global Warming.
  9. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth K. "Novelist Combines CO2 and Romance", Chemical and Engineering News, June 4, 2001.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Crum, Maddie (12 November 2014). "Margaret Atwood: 'I Don't Call It Climate Change. I Call It The Everything Change'". The Huffington Post.
  12. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood".
  13. ^ Publishers Weekly/
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Canavan, Gerry (11 March 2017). "Utopia in the Time of Trump". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  16. ^ Flood, Alison (4 August 2009). "McEwan's new novel will feature media hate figure" – via The Guardian.
  17. ^ "The Stone Gods - Jeanette Winterson".
  18. ^ Walsh, Bryan (8 November 2012). "Barbara Kingsolver on Flight Behavior and Why Climate Change Is Part of Her Story". TIME. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  19. ^ "Martyn Ellington". Martyn Ellington.
  20. ^ Holding, Sarah (6 February 2015). "What is cli-fi? And why I write it". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mehnert, Antonia. Climate Change Fictions: Representations of Global Warming in American Literature. Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.
  • Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew. "Climate Change Fiction." In American Literature in Transition, 2000-2010, edited by Rachel Greenwald Smith. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Trexler, Adam. Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change. University of Virginia Press, 2015.

External links[edit]