Feb 5, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Psalm Delaney | Photo by Anil Jergens
As climate change polarizes the media and the government, today’s novelists may be our superheroes. They are on a mission to use the power of memorable storylines to bring awareness, promote unity, and inspire environmental change across the world.
The inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris has rekindled the United States’ federal effort to combat climate change. But while we may be celebrating here at Colorado College, not everyone in our city, state, nation, or planet is on board.
Last week, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert announced her intentions to push back against Biden’s orders regarding the Paris Agreement. Across the world, articles and reports about climate change are flooding news stations and courthouses, but so far, the numbers and data do not seem to be enough to spark much change.
Climate fiction authors are on a mission to change that.
“Climate fiction highlights and intensifies the present and future climate change in a way that reporting simply can’t match,” says writer Theodora Sutcliffe.
Climate fiction is defined as a genre of literature specifically focused on climate change. While it is categorized by publishers and libraries as a sub-genre of science-fiction, it has a broach reach. The genre is multi-disciplinary, as it addresses sociological, political, anthropological, and historical themes that appeal to diverse audiences rather than just sci-fi fans. Though many of the works take place in the future, they are approachable and relatable to readers across the globe.
While fiction addressed climate change prior to the 21st century, the concept of climate fiction was not publicly recognized until writer and environmental activist Dan Bloom coined the phrase ‘cli-fi’ in 2007. Bloom says that he “never defined or even tried to define a new genre.” Instead, he intended to bring more attention to climate change with a new and catchy term.
Margaret Atwood, whom most of us know best for her work “The Handmaid’s Tale,” introduced ‘cli-fi’ to her Twitter following in 2012, and from there the term took its rise to publicity.
To date, there are several hundred cli-fi books on shelves across the globe written by authors from nearly every continent. Cli-fi books are now written in many languages and translated in even more. The world’s very first Climate Fiction Festival was hosted just two months ago at Berlin’s Literaturhaus and live-streamed on YouTube.
Now that you have a little background on ‘cli-fi,’ here is a quick collection of the genre’s top-rated novels to get you started.
“MaddAddam Trilogy” by Margaret Atwood
In this trilogy, Atwood uses her compelling futuristic style coupled with romantic plots to provide a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic world afflicted by a plague that has wiped out the majority of the human race. The trilogy includes “Oryx and Crake” (2003), “The Year of the Flood” (2009), and “MaddAddam” (2013).
“American War” by Omar El Akkad
This novel was written in 2017 by Canadian-Egyptian author Akkad. He writes about a second U.S. civil war that is started over the use of fossil fuels. In 2019, BBC news named the book one of the 100 most influential books of the past 300 years.
“Gun Island” by Amitav Gosh
In 2016, Gosh expressed that cli-fi authors tend to focus too much on the narrative’s characters rather than the pressing issue at hand. He published “Gun Island” in 2019 as a response to his own critique of the rising genre. “Gun Island” explicitly addresses the effect of rising sea level rise, large-scale migration, and extreme weather on the global community through the lens of an ancient Bengali myth.
Despite our differences, the future of the planet we call home is in our hands. As humans, it is not only our obligation but our privilege to be responsible stewards. Take a look inside a cli-fi book — it might just have the power to inspire us all.