Fiction Advocate of Earth Day

Climate change? Apparently so.

In “So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?” NPR Books explores the growing genre of “cli-fi”:

Over the past decade, more and more writers have begun to set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth’s systems are noticeably off-kilter. The genre has come to be called climate fiction — “cli-fi,” for short.

NPR starts the discussion with Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow, which people are talking about because it seems to have predicted the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, Exhibit B for “cli-fi” is Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which is a bad example because — much as I still love Jurassic Park and even The Lost World — it’s garbage. This is climate change fiction in the vein of Fox News report or The Daily Caller, where well-paid dummies sow doubt about the harsh scientific facts. Crichton imagined a world in which people pretend that climate change is happening because somehow that will make them money. It was presumably adapted from the real world scenarios in which people pretend that climate change isn’t happening because that is guaranteed to make them money.

There are some other reasonable examples however, including Ian McEwan’s Solar and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. There is no mention of the story of Noah in the Bible, which is excusably since it’s more of the ur-text of cli-fi and not part of the contemporary movement. But one significant omission is The Hunger Games, which takes place in a post climate world.


Joe Romm at Climate Progress points to this passage from the book as the brief but telling explanation for what happened:

[The mayor] tells of the history of Panem. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts…”

Unlike climate change, the existence of “cli-fi” as a legitimate genre remains debatable, and it remains to be seen if NPR’s predictions will ultimately prove true. Cli-fi author Daniel Kramb speculates that “when [people] look back at this 21st century … they will definitely see climate change as one of the major themes in literature, if not the major theme.” My personal hope is that “cli-fi” develops as a genre — and stays in that limited zone. This outcome is vastly preferable to the alternative, in which stories of people dealing with rising seas, historic droughts, food shortages and resource wars becomes known as “realism.”

Happy Earth Day?

– Michael Moats


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3 Responses to Fiction Advocate of Earth Day

  1. Mike, i am danny bloom in Taiwan and i coined the term CLI FI a few years ago for a cli fi novel i was producing titled POLAR CITY RED. MARGRET ATWOOD tweeted the term cli in a tweet in 2011 that said “danny bloom has coined a new sci fi term called cli fi” google me and the term, interview me? danbloom AT gmail DOT com, i am a climate activist in taiwan, Tufts 1971

    The Next Big Genre: ‘Cli-Fi’ — Climate Fiction, in Which ‘Mad Max’ Meets ‘The Road’

    Forget missions to Mars and start thinking about mass migrations of ”climate refugees” north to Alaska.

    Published: January 26, 2012 @ 11:34 am

  2. Mike..good post above but re ”Unlike climate change, the existence of “cli-fi” as a legitimate genre remains [debatable], and it [remains to be seen] if NPR’s predictions will ultimately prove true. ” You make a good point, cli fi might not stick as a literary term, we will have to wait and see. But even sci fi was meant with derision when the term was first coined. And also: CLI FI does not have to be pro global warming, it can also be against global warming ideas. So cli fi goes two ways, for both skeptics and believers. We shall see. Keeping an open mind is vital. sign me, danny bloom, 1949-2032

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