Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tikkun magazine invites a climate activist of the literary kind to explain himself

'Tikkun' magazine invites a climate activist of the literary to explain himself


A few weeks ago, I approached Rabbi Michael Lerner in California, the founder of Tikkun magazine, about writing a blog post for his publication, and he kindly invited me to send my piece in. A few days later, it was published, with the headline "A 'Cli-Fi Missionary' with Jewish Roots Who is Fighting Global Warming."

I started off the oped in a conversational way, writing: "I'm a climate change literary activist and gadfly, and I'd like to talk to you today about something I call cli-fi."

And then I told my story, parts of which are excerpted here, noting: "I'm close to 70, and I graduated from Tufts University in 1971 with a major in literature, and promoting the literary fortunes of cli-fi is now my life work. And I'm Jewish, and my Jewish education and family life in western Massachusetts in the 1950s and 1960s plays a central role, even today, in my climate activism.

''So what's cli-fi? It's a subgenre of sci-fi, according to some observers, and a separate stand-alone genre of its own, according to others. I feel that cli-fi novels and movies can cut through the bitter divide among rightwing denialists and leftwing liberals worldwide over the global warming debate. I'm not into politics; I'm into literature and movies.

''We are a world now divided bitterly over climate change issues. In my view of things, novels and movies can serve to wake people up in ways that politics and ideology cannot. That's where cli-fi comes in. In my late 60s, with a heart attack-related stent keeping my ticker ticking, and my days numbered now, I'm combining my Jewish heritage with its emphasis on social justice with my personal concerns about the future impacts of man-made global warming.

''As a Jewish person, I learned from an early age the need to look out for others and have empathy for the world at large. Climate change is the most important issue the humankind has ever faced. As a Jew, I cannot look away.

''Ten years ago, I coined a new literary term I dubbed 'cli-fi' for 'climate fiction' novels and movies. My coinage with its modelling of the sci-fi term, was picked up by reporters for the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and San Diego Jewish World where I write occasionally pen a freelance column about Jewish life and culture.

''In 2015, I set up a website called The Cli-Fi Report to broadcast my views about cli-fi and to gather feedback from literary critics and novelists around the world.

''I fund my work myself on a very small shoestring budget in my sunset years, but I had a father who left me an inheritance more important than money: a Yiddish term called 'menschlekeit.' And to be a PR guy for cli-fi in my late 60s is in direct gratitude for the good life I've had on this planet, and it's also my way of saying thanks to my dad and mom, Bernie Bloom from Avenue J in Brooklyn, and Sylvia Epstein Bloom from Blue Hill Avenue in Boston.

''What I want to say today, here in Tikkun, is thank you Bernie and Sylvia. You both taught me that it was important not only to be a mensch in one's daily life but also to try to help 'repair the world' -- tikkun olam in Hebrew.

''And for me, with my contribution of a new literary term to the world, that is what my work on the climate fight is all about: tikkun olam. I am not writing a book about cli-fi, I am not appearing on TV talk shows, and I am not making a documentary about my work. I am not interested in fame or money.

''And despite not having stepped foot in a synagogue for over 40 years,  I'm as Jewish as they come, and I recognize the importance of my Jewish heritage, first described in the second creation story in the Torah, to steward the Earth's resources. That's why I was inspired to coin and publicize the cli-fi term: to try to save future generations of humankind as global warming impact events make themselves felt worldwide more and more over the next 30 generations of man. I'm a visionary of sorts, but I don't hear supernatural voices. I only hear my parents saying to me: 'Danny, don't give up!'

''And so help me God, I'm never giving up.''

After the oped was published online, two responses from readers came in that resonated with me, one from a Jewish man in North America, and another from a Jewish man in Australia.

Richard Schwartz wrote: "Kudos to Dan Bloom. Since most people prefer fiction and movies to factual material, his approach could be a major help in increasing awareness about climate change, so important to help shift our imperilled planet onto a sustainable path.''

And Evan Shapiro, a novelist and public relations consultant in Australia, reached out to me in a longer reaction, writing:

''Thank you for sharing. It's a fascinating and well-outlined perspective. While I'm from Jewish decent, I wasn't brought up Jewish. My grandparents were observant, but both my parents declared themselves as atheists and gave my siblings and I a very liberal upbringing and education here in Australia. My feelings about being Jewish are by no means simple. There have been times in my life I've felt it keenly. There are particular aspects of my life that also make me feel very Australian, though by no means is that very traditional, either.  It's an interesting place to find yourself. As I get older, however, I feel more and more human and observant of social conditioning of all kinds that may or may not have affected my outlook. Appreciative of my background and upbringing but open to looking well beyond them, if that makes sense. It's that sense of humanity beyond the label, or perhaps beneath the label that drives me to communicate ideas of human compassion. From a human perspective, how can we not save our one and only precious planet? Thank you for sharing your honest and open article. I really enjoyed it.''