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Friday, February 2, 2018
Re-imagining How We Write Cli-Fi Novels and Short Stories About Climate Change
Text adapted from online news and media agencies: 2018
The Madonna of Global Warming: Photo of a weather-beaten statue of the Virgin Mary outside a church in northwestern France. Photo by French sci-fi author Yann Quero
Apocalyptic stories of rising sea levels and choking dust storms come to mind when most people think about cli-fi novels and movies, and the emerging genre often referred to as cli-fi. See www.cli-fo.net
Dystopian anarchy where nations battle over water resources appear in books and films that imagine our environment in the not-so-distant future. Also utopian cli-fi novels and movies that try to stay positive.
But maybe it’s time to expand what we consider cli-fi and how we choose tell these stories.
QUOTE: “The climate change apocalypse is not in the distant future. It has already arrived.”
In this post-Weinstein moment, in this shift of awareness stirred by Black Lives Matter, amid the surge of anti-LGBTQA legislation, and in a moment when oil pipelines leak on sacred indigenous land, Sundance sizzled with a sense of urgency, a feeling that filmmakers wanted to grab moviegoers by the shoulders and shake them.
Have you heard about ''intersectional climate justice''. Analogous to intersectional feminism, intersectional climate justice widens the conversation about climate change to consider race, education, nationality, ethnicity, gender identity, indigenous communities, and socioeconomics.
QUOTE: “We have to remember that for many Third World people, they’ve already experienced an apocalypse.”
Storytellers tend to silo environmental stories into bite-sized pieces. We talk about pollution in the Communist Dictatorship of PRC China. We discuss rising sea levels in Pacific Island nations. We wring our hands about deforestation in South America and off-shore drilling in the US.
But these are not separate stories. They are all part of the same story.
We don’t need utopian or dystopian, futuristic novels to scare us. We should already be scared.
“Climate change is the biggest moral challenge facing humanity.”
Marginalized US populations are already feeling the effects of climate change more acutely than privileged communities. Think about the Lower Ninth Ward that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the thousands of people without power in Puerto Rico months after Hurricane Maria.
So how do cli-fi writers and filmmakers tell these stories?
QUOTE: “We need to bring climate justice to the dinner table, to our communities, and into art spaces.”
Think about cli-fi novels like Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel about an African-American family in the path of Hurricane Katrina, and about Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior about a monarch butterfly invasion in Appalachia. They both told contemporary stories about the effects of weather and climate on specific communities.
And I thought about my own novel, a contemporary climate fiction story about how a four-degree rise in temperatures led to drought, an invasive beetle infestation, wildfire, crop failure, farm foreclosure, migrant worker job loss, economic upheaval, and a widening racial rift in one small town. Mine is not a futuristic or dystopian story. It’s based on real phenomena happening right now.
QUOTE: “What is the role of cli-fi writers when it comes to intersectional climate justice?”
And remember: advice to all cli-fi authors:
Don’t tell someone else’s story.
But don’t leave marginalized voices out of the story.
No matter how hard you try, someone will tell you that you did it wrong.
But no matter what, tell your story.
Climate change is everyone’s problem. What if we, as cli-fi storytellers, envisioned a world where people listened to each other’s experiences and learned from them?
Cli-Fi can be a gateway for readers not versed in science to understand the impacts of climate change without wading through the politics. Fiction can tell deeply human stories, such as the plight of a struggling Mississippi family in Salvage the Bones, and of an Appalachian community in Flight Behavior.
Cli-fi can do more than scare us or teach us something. It can evoke empathy, the way good literature does. We can recognize struggles faced by someone we don’t know as our own problems. We can come to understand that burning the rainforest is our problem here in the the wealthy nations of North America and Europe and Japan and Australia.
Maybe if cli-fi writers and filmmakers keep telling the difficult climate justice stories—complete, inclusive, and thoughtful stories—the world might listen. Although cli-fi, in general, can be utopian as well, it often skews toward the dystopian, apocalyptic variety, but is plenty of room on the bookshelf for contemporary, realistic cli-fi novels about climate change as it is already occurring.