Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Comments re Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick oped about the power of cli-fi novels and movies to resonate with public



Tania Searle
PhD Candidate, Sociology, Flinders University
''I find the proliferation of cli-fi and post-apocalyptic movies reflective of Beck’s ‘risk society’. Many of them also depict new societies with a survival economy where money and capitalism is absent, which is interesting in itself.Personally I love this genre, and have since my teens when stories of an apocalypse was the result of a nuclear catastrophe and not climate change. I wonder though, how much do people really care? How much do people translate cli-fi as reflective of their own reality?''

Kim Borg
Research Officer at BehaviourWorks Australia within the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University
''Very interesting. Would love to know if anyone has looked at behavioural or attitudinal responses to some of the films/shows you mention. We know how powerful media can be in providing subtle influence why not make it a positive change!''

Clive Hamilton
Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University
“To this audience, cli-fi also has an important message to deliver – that of hope. That it is not, or will it be ever, too late to combat human-caused climate change.”These words, and the words that follow, imply that if only we all knuckle down then the problem of climate change can be fixed. This is scientifically inaccurate and therefore misleading.

Gregory Reid

''“Soylent Green” has haunted me for 35 years and I have tried very hard to counter its dystopian view of 2030 but so far the film is still disturbingly on track. The problem with clifi today is that it is lumped with SciFantasy and viewers do not recognise the possible truth in the setting.''

Ken Fabian
logged in via Google
I don’t know about movies - being reasonably accurate about real climate change almost always gets set aside for the sake of a dramatic story line or special effects. Written works I’ve encountered are often no better but one stood out - “The Water Knife” - by Paolo Bacigalupi; truly terrifying in it’s compelling portrayal of social disruption and ruthless water politics in a US strongly affected by climate change.

Caroline Smith

The cli-fi dystopias are really no more than an extrapolation of the scary graphs which we know just turns many people away from the issue. The last paragraph of this article is the important one -we needs lots of films etc. representing possible positive sustainable futures that help us imagine the world differently.

Simon Kerr

Thank you Sarah. Cli-Fi has a role I am sure (I am a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson), though it is difficult to determine how that role plays out. We WILL end up with a cultural shift to a heightened climate consciousness one way or the other, and all I know for sure is that different things will move different people. So all of us, scientists, policy makers, writers, artists, teachers, institutions, we all have a role to play to shift the narrative.
My current view is that, by and large, we still don’t get the extraordinary dangers of unrestrained emissions. Given big enough disruptions, our social systems will not be able to cope and then the great life many of us have will be just a memory. I don’t want that, so anything that will change the current narrative towards realism and positive action is welcome.

Susan Hawthorne
logged in via Facebook
You might be nteretsed to readthe Christina Stead prize-winning novel (2016) Locust Girl by Merlinda Bobis. You can get it through Spinifex Press http://www.spinifexpress.com.au or order through your local bookshop. This novel is. a very different take from the ones you mention, allowing for the poor and dispossessed to speak through the novel. She also writes about the theft of water in ways that are not too dissimilar from whta is already happening.

Stephanie Bone

In reply to Susan Hawthorne
''Clade'' a cli-fi novel by literary critic James Bradley is worth checking out too https://www.penguin.com.au/books/clade-9781926428659
It shows a family through the generations, living their lives as climate change happens around them. I found it really compelling - it all seemed so plausible. Perhaps a film version might work, and give a wider audience an insight into how climate change might affect them in Australia in the not-too-distant future.

Chris Crawford
logged in via Google
While I myself prefer the rigorous, technical approach to such issues, I recognize that effective communication can come from many different directions. Art is one of the many forms of communication, and is effective in its own way. Storytelling is an especially powerful medium of communication about social ills, and people have been using it for centuries. Start with Erasmus’ Praise of Folly and Complaint of Peace. I can’t off the top of my head think of any from the eighteenth century (Voltaire? Paine?) but how about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and many of Mark Twain’s works? The twentieth century saw a ton of such works: Cry, the Beloved Country; On the Beach, Dr. Strangelove. US television had two series that had huge political impact: Roots and Holocaust. Or The Day After. Let’s not forget Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Platoon.

Danny Bloom
logged in via Facebook
Loved this oped. And your line “cli-fi can be the prose of science.” Briliant way to put it. Bravo! - Dan Bloom editor The Cli-Fi Report www.cli-fi.net

John McKeon

In reply to Danny Bloom
It appears that cli-fi is a big deal. :-) Thank you for the references.

Tania Searle
PhD Candidate, Sociology, Flinders University
I find the proliferation of cli-fi and post-apocalyptic movies reflective of Beck’s ‘risk society’. Many of them also depict new societies with a survival economy where money and capitalism is absent, which is interesting in itself.Personally I love this genre, and have since my teens when stories of an apocalypse was the result of a nuclear catastrophe and not climate change. I wonder though, how much do people really care? How much do people translate cli-fi as reflective of their own reality?

Alvin Stone
logged in via Facebook
There’s one thing science communicators or any communicator all know - where the heart goes the mind follows. It seldom happens the other way around.
That’s why fiction that touches the emotions can have a long-lasting impact and change societies, as some of the commenters here have highlighted when they recalled scenes in movies that stayed with them and fiction writing that has had a massive impact.
We are at our core driven by emotions first. We carry emotions with us, not facts or graphs (unless they generate some powerful emotion in and of themselves). Cli-fi can reach those emotions often better than the warnings of scientists.


Climate change - or global warming - is a term we are all familiar with. The warming of the Earth’s atmosphere due to the consumption of fossil fuels by human activity was predicted in the 19th century. It can be seen in the increase in global temperature from the industrial revolution onwards, and has been a central political issue for decades.

Climate scientists who moonlight as communicators tend to bombard their audiences with facts and figures - to convince them how rapidly our planet is warming - and scientific evidence demonstrating why we are to blame. A classic example is Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and its sequel, which are loaded with graphs and statistics. However, it is becoming ever clearer that these methods don’t work as well as we’d like. In fact, more often than not, we are preaching to the converted, and can further polarise those who accept the science from those who don’t.
One way of potentially tapping into previously unreached audiences is via cli-fi, or climate-fiction. Cli-fi explores how the world may look in the process or aftermath of dealing with climate change, and not just that caused by burning fossil fuels.

Recently, I participated as a scientist in a forum with Screen Australia, looking at how cli-fi might communicate the issues around climate change in new ways. I’m a heatwave scientist and I’d love to see a cli-fi story bringing the experience of heatwaves to light. After the forum, Screen Australia put out a call for proposals for TV series and telemovies in the cli-fi genre.

We absolutely need and should rely on peer-reviewed scientific findings for public policy, and planning to stop climate change and adapt to it. But climate scientists should not expect everyone to be as concerned as they are when they show a plot of increasing global temperatures.

Cli-fi has the potential to work in the exact opposite way, through compelling storylines, dramatic visuals, and characters. By making people care about and individually connect to climate change, it can motivate them to seek out the scientific evidence for themselves.

Imagined worlds

The term “cli-fi” was coined [in 2011 for a cli-fi novel PR campaign for the novel POLAR CITY RED by USA author Jim Laughter], but the [general] genre has existed for much longer. One of the earliest examples is Jules Verne’s The Purchase of the North Pole, where the tilt of the Earth’s axis is altered by human endeavours (of the astronaut, not industrial kind), bringing an end to seasonal variability.
More modern examples of cli-fi take their prose from real-life contemporary issues, imagining the effects of human-caused climate change. Some pieces of cli-fi are perhaps closer to the truth than others

Could the thermohaline circulation (which carries heat around our oceans) shut down, bringing a sudden global freeze, as The Day After Tomorrow suggests? There is evidence that it will, but perhaps not as quickly as the film imagines.
Is it possible that fertility rates will be affected by climate change? The television-adapted version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale blames pollution and environmental change for a world-wide plummet in fertility, thus giving a cli-fi undertone to the whole dystopian series. While there is no scientific evidence to currently back this scenario, as a new parent, it struck a chord with me personally. The thought of a world where virtually every couple is unable to experience the joys of parenthood, particularly due to climate change, is quite distressing.
Poster for The Road Warrior, the second in the first Mad Max trilogy. Kennedy Miller Productions
Cli-fi also underpins the highly acclaimed Mad Max movie series. In a dystopian near-future, fossil fuel resources have depleted and the social and environmental impacts are vast. Australia has become a desolate wasteland and our society has all but collapsed.

Although such a scenario will be unlikely to occur in the next couple of decades, it is not completely unrealistic. We are burning fossil fuels far faster than they are forming, with some predictions that accessible sources will run out in the next century. And some of our famous ecosystems are already very sick thanks to climate change.
And then there is Waterworld. Yet another dystopia, where there is no ice left on Earth and sea levels have risen 7.5km above current levels. Civilisations exists only in small settlements, where inhabitants dream of the mythical “dry land”. While the movie overestimates exactly how much water is locked away in ice (sea levels can only rise by up to 60-70 metres), many major global cities would be inundated and no longer exist. And while it will take thousands, not hundreds of years for complete melting to take place, sea level rise is already posing a problem for some coastal settlements and small islands. Moreover, Arctic ice is predicted to completely melt away well before the end of this century.
Sure, the scientific evidence underpinning these storylines is embellished to say the least, But they are certainly worth deliberating over if they ignite conversations with people that mainstream science fails to reach.

The power of fiction

In the long run, cli-fi might encourage audiences to modify their everyday lives (and maybe even who they vote for) to reduce their own carbon footprint.
From personal experience, some audiences tend to disengage from climate change because of how overwhelming the issue may seem. Global temperatures are rising at a rate not seen for millions of years, and we are currently not doing enough to avoid dangerous climate change. Understandably, the scale and weight of climate change likely encourages many to bury their heads firmly in the sand.
To this audience, cli-fi also has an important message to deliver – that of hope. That it is not, or will it be ever, too late to combat human-caused climate change.
Imagining a future where green energy is accessible to everyone, where global politicians work tirelessly to rapidly reduce emissions, or where new technologies are discovered that safely and permanently remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere are absolutely worth air time. Cli-fi can act as prose for science. And on the topic of mitigating climate change, there is no such thing as too much prose.

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