Climate fiction

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Climate fiction, or climate change fiction, usually abbreviated to cli-fi (modelled on the rhyming sounds of "sci-fi") is a literary genre that deals with climate change and global warming.[1] Not necessarily speculative in nature, works of cli-fi may take place in the present day world we know or in the near future. Hundreds of universities worldwide now offer climate-change fiction courses that deal with both literature and film.[2]


Climate change fiction is a relatively new category of fiction, following the recognition in the mid-twentieth century of global warming.

Various works were produced before the phrase "climate fiction" entered the lexicon. One example is Jules Verne's 1889 novel The Purchase of the North Pole, which imagines a 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 the temperature, which last for three years.[3]

However, it was not until the mid twentieth century that works of fiction dealing with the theme of climate change began to be published, as science started to emphasis global warming.[4] British author J. G. Ballard published some important early examples, making use of the post-apocalyptic dystopia genre. His most celebrated dystopia is Crash, in which cars symbolise the mechanisation of the world and man's capacity to destroy himself with the technology he creates.[5] He explores this theme in terms of global warming in The Wind from Nowhere (1961), where civilization is reduced by persistent hurricane force winds, while 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.[6] In The Burning World (1964, later called The Drought) a surrealistic psychological landscape is formed by drought due to industrial pollution disrupting the precipitation cycle.[7]

Another major writer on this topic is American science fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson. Virtually all of Robinson's novels have an ecological component; sustainability would have to be counted among his primary themes.The Three Californias Trilogy is about the way in which the technological intersects with the natural, highlighting the importance of keeping the two in balance. In the Mars trilogy, one of the principal divisions among the population of Mars is based on dissenting views on terraforming.[8] Forty Signs of Rain has an entirely ecological thrust, taking global warming for its principal subject.

Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain (2004) is the first book in his Science in the Capital trilogy, which also includes Fifty Degrees Below (2005) and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). Robinson has been nicknamed the "Master of Disaster" for his description of natural disasters based partly on the contents of this book. 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 for us to pull our heads from the sand and confront the threat of climate change."[9]

In addition to Ballard, a number of other major British authors have also written about climate change. 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.[10] State of Fear (2004) is 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 scientific opinion on climate change and accuses its proponents of using fear tactics. 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.[11]

A writer of speculative fiction, Canadian Margaret Attwood has explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013).[12] In Oryx and Crake Attwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event".[13] 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.[14]

Other authors who have used this subject matter include Liz Jensen, Tony White, Sarah Holding,[15] Barbara Kingsolver and journalists Scott Thill, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow and Dan Bloom.[16] Kingsolver's most recent novel, Flight Behavior (2012), employs environmental themes and highlights the potential effects of global warming on the monarch butterfly.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bloom, Dan (10 March 2015). "‘Cli-Fi’ Reaches into Literature Classrooms Worldwide". Inter Press Service News Agency. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  2. ^ PÉREZ-PEÑA, RICHARD. "College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change". New York Times (April 1, 2014 pg A12). Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  3. ^ 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]
  4. ^ Spencer Weart (2003). "The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect". The Discovery of Global Warming. 
  5. ^ Sukhdev Sandhu, "JG Ballard: a love affair with speed and violence "Telegraph", 27 Apr 2009.[3]
  6. ^ The Guardian 22 January, 2009
  7. ^ .
  8. ^ Kirkus 6 January, 2015
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ The Guardian website, "McEwan's new novel will feature media hate figure" Retrieved on 2010-02-01
  11. ^ website, "The Stone Gods" Retrieved on 2010-01-02
  12. ^ Huffington Post 12 November 2014
  13. ^ Publishers Weekly
  14. ^ Publishers Weekly/
  15. ^ Holding, Sarah (6 February 2015). "What is cli-fi? And why I write it". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  16. ^ Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca (Summer 2013). "Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre". Dissent. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  17. ^ Walsh, Bryan (8 November 2012). "Barbara Kingsolver on Flight Behavior and Why Climate Change Is Part of Her Story". TIME. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 

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