Climate fiction


Climate fiction (sometimes shortened as cli-fi) is literature that deals with climate change and global warming.[1] Not necessarily speculative in nature, works may take place in the world as we know it or in the near future. The genre frequently includes science fiction and dystopian or utopian themes, imagining the potential futures based on how humanity responds to the impacts of climate change. Technologies such as climate engineering or climate adaptation practices often feature prominently in works exploring their impacts on society. Climate fiction is distinct from petrofiction which deals directly with the petroleum culture and economy.

University courses on literature and environmental issues may include climate change fiction in their syllabi.[2] 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.[3]


The term "cli-fi" first came into mainstream media use on April 20, 2013 when NPR did a five-minute radio segment on Weekend Edition Saturday[4] to describe novels and movies that deal with human-induced 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 eponymous city experiences a sudden drop in temperature, which lasts for three years.[5] Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction novel Dune, set on a fictional desert planet, has been proposed as a pioneer of climate fiction for its themes of ecology and environmentalism.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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",[9] 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.[10] Michael Crichton's State of Fear (2004), a techno-thriller, has been criticised by climate change scientists for portraying climate change as "a vast pseudo-scientific hoax" and rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change[11]

Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993) imagines a near-future for the United States where climate change, wealth inequality, and corporate greed cause apocalyptic chaos. Here, and in sequel Parable of the Talents (1998), Butler dissects how instability and political demagoguery exacerbate society’s underlying cruelty (especially with regards to racism and sexism) and also explores themes of survival and resilience.[12][13] Butler wrote the novel “thinking about the future, thinking about the things that we’re doing now and the kind of future we’re buying for ourselves, if we’re not careful.”[14]

Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013).[15] In Oryx and Crake Atwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event".[16] 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.[17]

Cultural critic Josephine Livingston at The New Republic: "From Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation to Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow, the last decade has seen such a steep rise in sophisticated 'cli-fi' that some literary publications now devote whole verticals to it. With such various and fertile imaginations at work on the same topic, whether in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge facing the environmental writer now is standing out from the crowd (not to mention the headlines)."

Prominent examples

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."[18] Robinson's climate-themed novel, titled New York 2140, was published in March 2017.[19] 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. Robinson's novel The Ministry for the Future, is set in the near future, and follows a subsidiary body, whose mission is to advocate for the world's future generations of citizens as if their rights are as valid as the present generation's.

Kim Stanley Robinson's science fiction works frequently include society's response to climate change.

British author J. G. Ballard used the setting of apocalyptic climate change in his early science fiction novels. In The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilisation is reduced by persistent hurricane-force winds. 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. In The Burning World (1964) a surrealistic psychological landscape is formed by drought due to industrial pollution disrupting the precipitation cycle.

Similarly, The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy is set after an unspecified apocalypse or environmental catastrophe. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007. Although it does not explicitly mentioned climate change, it has been listed by The Guardian as one of the best climate change novels,[20] and environmentalist George Monbiot has described it as "the most important environmental book ever written" for depicting a world without a biosphere.[21][22]

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.[23] 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.[24]

Other authors who have used this subject matter include:

Other examples

Anthologies and collections

  • Welcome to the Greenhouse (2011) US edited by Gordon Van Gelder
  • Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction (2015) US edited by John Joseph Adams
  • Drowned Worlds (2016) UK edited by Jonathan Strahan
  • Possible Solutions (2017) US by Helen Phillips – Many of the short stories concern climate change.
  • Author and editor Bruce Meyer and creative writing professor at Georgian College edited a 2017 anthology of stories about "changing ocean conditions, the widening disappearance of species, genetically modified organisms, increasing food shortages, mass migrations of refugees, and the hubris behind our provoking Mother Earth herself", which he labels as "cli-fi". The anthology includes works by George McWhirter, Richard Van Camp, Holly Schofield, Linda Rogers, Sean Virgo, Rati Mehrotra, Geoffrey W. Cole, Phil Dwyer, Kate Story, Leslie Goodreid, Nina Munteanu, Halli Villegas, John Oughton, Frank Westcott, Wendy Bone, Peter Timmerman, and Lynn Hutchinson-Lee.[37]


Many journalists, literary critics, and scholars have speculated about the potential influence of climate fiction on the beliefs of its readers. To date, three empirical studies have examined this question.

A controlled experiment found that reading climate fiction short stories "had small but significant positive effects on several important beliefs and attitudes about global warming – observed immediately after participants read the stories," though "these effects diminished to statistical nonsignificance after a one-month interval." However, the authors note that "the effects of a single exposure in an artificial setting may represent a lower bound of the real-world effects. Reading climate fiction in the real world often involves multiple exposures and longer narratives," such as novels, "which may result in larger and longer-lasting impacts."[38]

A survey of readers found that readers of climate fiction "are younger, more liberal, and more concerned about climate change than nonreaders," and that climate fiction "reminds concerned readers of the severity of climate change while impelling them to imagine environmental futures and consider the impact of climate change on human and nonhuman life. However, the actions that resulted from readers' heightened consciousness reveal that awareness is only as valuable as the cultural messages about possible actions to take that are in circulation. Moreover, the responses of some readers suggest that works of climate fiction might lead some people to associate climate change with intensely negative emotions, which could prove counterproductive to efforts at environmental engagement or persuasion."[39]

Finally, an empirical study focused on the popular novel The Water Knife found that cautionary climate fiction set in a dystopic future can be effective at educating readers about climate injustice and leading readers to empathize with the victims of climate change, including environmental migrants. However, its results suggest that dystopic climate narratives might lead to support for reactionary responses to climate change. Based on this result, it cautioned that "not all climate fiction is progressive," despite the hopes of many authors, critics, and readers.[40]

See also


  1. ^ Glass, Rodge (May 31, 2013). "Global Warning: The Rise of 'Cli-fi'" retrieved March 3, 2016
  2. ^ PÉREZ-PEÑA, RICHARD (April 1, 2014). "College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change". New York Times. p. A12. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  3. ^ Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca (Summer 2013). "Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre". Dissent. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  4. ^ "So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?". Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  5. ^ Evans, Arthur B. (March 1995). "The 'New' Jules Verne". Science-Fiction Studies. XXII:1 (65): 35–46. Archived from the original on 2020-08-20. Retrieved 2015-03-31.
    Taves, Brian (March 1997). "Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century". Science Fiction Studies. 24, Part 1 (71).
  6. ^ ""Dune," climate fiction pioneer: The ecological lessons of Frank Herbert's sci-fi masterpiece were ahead of its time". Salon. 2015-08-14. Retrieved 2021-10-29.
  7. ^ Litt, Toby (21 January 2009). "The best of JG Ballard" – via The Guardian.
  8. ^ "Joe Milicia analyses The Drought in Riverside Quarterly, 1985". Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  9. ^ Weart, Spencer (2003). "The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect". The Discovery of Global Warming.
  10. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth K. "Novelist Combines CO2 and Romance", Chemical and Engineering News, June 4, 2001.
  11. ^ Slovic, Scott (2008). "Science, Eloquence, and the Asymmetry of Trust: What's at Stake in Climate Change Fiction". Green Theory & Praxis: The Journal of Ecopedagogy. 4 (1). doi:10.3903/gtp.2008.1.6. ISSN 1941-0948.
  12. ^ Lucas, Julian (8 March 2021). "How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  13. ^ Aguirre, Abby (26 July 2017). "Octavia Butler's Prescient Vision of a Zealot Elected to "Make America Great Again"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  14. ^ Butler, Octavia (1995). "Decades ago, Octavia Butler saw a "grim future" of climate denial and income inequality". 40 Acres and a Microchip (conference) (Interview). Interviewed by Julie Dash. Corinne Segal. Digital Diaspora, UK: LitHub. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  15. ^ Crum, Maddie (12 November 2014). "Margaret Atwood: 'I Don't Call It Climate Change. I Call It The Everything Change'". The Huffington Post.
  16. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood".
  17. ^ Publishers Weekly/
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Canavan, Gerry (11 March 2017). "Utopia in the Time of Trump". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  20. ^ a b "Five of the best climate-change novels". The Guardian. 2017-01-19. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  21. ^ "Why the cultural response to global warming makes for a heated debate". The Independent. 2014-06-11. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  22. ^ "George Monbiot: Civilisation ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already?". The Guardian. 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  23. ^ Flood, Alison (4 August 2009). "McEwan's new novel will feature media hate figure" – via The Guardian.
  24. ^ "The Stone Gods – Jeanette Winterson". Archived from the original on 2013-10-05. Retrieved 2015-03-31.
  25. ^ Random House, Inc. website, "Sixty Days and Counting'" Retrieved on 2009-04-14
  26. ^ website, "Books by Kim Stanley Robinson" Retrieved on 2009-04-14
  27. ^ website, "The Stone Gods" Archived 2013-10-05 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2010-01-02
  28. ^ BookBrowse website, Arctic Drift, retrieved on 2009-04-14.
  29. ^ "Martyn Ellington". Martyn Ellington.
  30. ^ The Guardian website, "McEwan's new novel will feature media hate figure" Retrieved on 2010-02-01
  31. ^ Walsh, Bryan (8 November 2012). "Barbara Kingsolver on Flight Behavior and Why Climate Change Is Part of Her Story". TIME. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  32. ^ Latham, Tori (2017-09-14). "A Novel That Imagines a World Without Bees". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  33. ^ Welle (, Deutsche. "How COVID influenced author Maja Lunde's work | DW | 11.03.2021". DW.COM. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  34. ^ Smith, Rosa Inocencio (2019-04-16). "Writing the Pulitzer-Winning 'The Overstory' Changed Richard Powers's Life". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-06-14.
  35. ^ Obreht, Téa (2020-09-04). "The New Wilderness by Diane Cook review – a dazzling debut". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-06-09.
  36. ^ Christie, Michael (2020-08-04). "'The Animals Are Dying. Soon We Will Be Alone Here.'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-06-09.
  37. ^ Meyer, Bruce. Cli-fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change. Exile Editions, 2017
  38. ^ Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew; Gustafson, Abel; Leiserowitz, Anthony; Goldberg, Matthew H.; Rosenthal, Seth A.; Ballew, Matthew (2020-09-15). "Environmental Literature as Persuasion: An Experimental Test of the Effects of Reading Climate Fiction". Environmental Communication: 1–16. doi:10.1080/17524032.2020.1814377. ISSN 1752-4032. S2CID 224996198.
  39. ^ Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew (November 2018). "The Influence of Climate Fiction: An Empirical Survey of Readers". Environmental Humanities. 10. doi:10.1215/22011919-7156848.
  40. ^ Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew (2020-05-01). ""Just as in the Book"? The Influence of Literature on Readers' Awareness of Climate Injustice and Perception of Climate Migrants". Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 27 (2): 337–364. doi:10.1093/isle/isaa020. ISSN 1076-0962.

Further reading

  • Canavan, Gerry; Robinson, Kim Stanley (2014). Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-7428-2.
  • Milner, Andrew; Burgmann, J.R. (2020). Science Fiction and Climate Change: A Sociological Approach. Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-1-78962-752-7.
  • Mehnert, Antonia (2016). Climate Change Fictions: Representations of Global Warming in American Literature. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-40337-3.
  • Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew (2017). "Climate Change Fiction". In Greenwald Smith, Rachel (ed.). American Literature in Transition, 2000–2010. Cambridge University Press. pp. 309–321. ISBN 978-1-108-54865-6.
  • Trexler, Adam (2015). Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-3693-2.
  • Streeby, Shelley (2018). Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making Through Science Fiction and Activism. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-29444-8.

External links

  • Cli-Fi in American Studies: A Research Bibliography
  • Climate Fiction in English: Oxford Research Encyclopedia
  • Burning Worlds Column in the Chicago Review of Books
  • Stories to save the world: the new wave of climate fiction, essay by Claire Armitstead for The Guardian
  • Climate Change Dystopia, discusses current popularity of climate change dystopia.