Overwhelmed by climate change? No wonder. It’s hard to picture exactly how our changing climate impacts us day to day, harder still to figure out how to stop it. But the answer may be in our past.
For thousands of years, we’ve told stories to make sense of the world around us. Fiction may be our saviour with climate change too: it’s a built-in safe haven to explore one of the most serious and important issues of our time.
Climate fiction (cli-fi for short) has arrived. And not a moment too soon, letting us experience both the social and ecological consequences of global climate catastrophe from the relative comfort of our couches. From record temperatures, melting glaciers and droughts to food shortages, economic collapse and widespread plague—cli-fi offers all this and more. Sounds like fun, right?
The term cli-fi has actually been around since 2007, likely coined by Daniel Bloom, a writer and climate activist. And the idea of a changing climate as plot driver or backstory isn’t new either—it’s appeared in fiction at least as far back as Jules Verne’s The Purchase of the North Pole, published in 1889. Books old and new are now being reclassified as cli-fi from Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian trilogy, MaddAddam.
Just as the sci-fi label can also apply to movies, tv shows, video games and graphic novels, so can cli-fi. Blade Runner, Wall-E, The Day After Tomorrow and even B-movie giant Sharknado are all climate fiction movies. Eco, currently in alpha, is a MindCraft-like world building video game that combines the nerdy minutiae of SimCity and the potential world ending doom of Sid Meier’s Civilization. Players need to not only survive in a world they create together, but form a working government and economy while mitigating ecological damage. There are now climate fiction literature classes at universities worldwide.
Why fiction? Dry facts and dire warnings from scientists and journalists often leave out the sucker-punch that fiction can provide. Cli-fi most importantly provides the humanity of the story; after all, we’re not trying to save the planet, we’re trying to save our ability to live on it. Especially useful for kids, teens and young adults, that emotional reaction might give us some traction in the war against climate change.
In climate fiction, there are no monsters under the bed. The horrors are already here and as the Guardian says “oddly familiar”. It just packages it in a pretty cover you can close when you get scared. If only we could close the book on climate change in the real world too. But maybe we’re finally telling stories that can show us the way to save it.